James B. Nicola
You cannot photograph experience
which includes feelings. You cannot snap,
into frozen stills, feelings and wild thoughts.
Experience defies being kept still.
Evening in Venice
The bell clanged wild in Venice when I was
in the campanile! I watched the bell,
then tourists in the campanile, whom
I saw scurry and click. Tourists can
turn into cockroaches—scurry CLICK—
as lights go on or off. Unlike roaches
they don’t hide, or avoid the light, of
course. But wanting to capture it, they
click away as if some night course
in photography taught them a way
of watching just to photograph. In
a few minutes I grew tired of watching
them and turned toward the city, which grew
into an inverse nighttime sky; turned
toward the canals, another inverse—
of the city lights. The dappled canals
echoed the full moon, the firmament
and Venice. I soaked in two full moons,
two firmaments, and two Venices
until the campanile chimed two more
hours, and made me shimmer until I
was like Venice: starlit, moonlit, and full.
Dawn in Dinan
Staying in the medieval village within
its walls, I woke up in the darkness.
Just before dawn: So I got up and
went for a little pre-dawn jog. What
else could I do? There was a little
moisture in the air, and dew on all
the old stones of the buildings. Such moistness,
moonlit and starlit, makes an old town
gleam as if coming to life; it makes
the magic of a morning. It’s as
if the stone could speak, by magic.
I ran up and down the cobblestone;
then, with things more visible, I ran
out of the town walls—with their blessing,
I felt—and down to the outskirts. At
the bottom of the wooded hill, I
came upon stone ruins. The woods had
swallowed them, it appeared, once upon
a time, the way a monster might swallow
adventurers and then, in time, spit
them out. Moist, they looked eery and half-
alive. I heard voices next—then looked
for them—then found them. The voices were
monks at matins. I listened to them
outside their window. The monks sang
in unison—you may have heard their
plainchant tunes, all in unison,
in recordings. O, it was enchanting—
like nothing else. Had I recorded
them they’d be famous. But I had nothing
with which to make a tape of their songs.
Nor did I have my camera with me
But the remembrance—that, I have
of hearing angels (monks) sing to me,
not knowing at first what I was hearing,
at precisely the moment of first
descrying the ruins in the forest.
It sounded as if the ruins themselves
were singing, and the enchanting sounds
came from the stones, which were the remains
of a village of monks long gone, turned to stones.
Day in Southern Ireland
Along the River Barrow, in Ireland,
I trod the towpath all along the river
for many redundant miles. The towpath
might have been where, many years ago,
my ancestors walked. Might have, we can’t
know. Nonetheless my ancestors had
to get to New Ross—we know they had
to, in order to get to America!
Mostly the river was ordinary
and blah—the towpath, most of the way,
grassed over—but the blah was eased
by rapids and locks over the ten
mile course I took—rapidly, that day.
At Graiguenamanah I took a pint
and made some local friends. Then, at St.
Mullins, a stranger recited some
verse to me, as if he were a stranger
no longer. We talked for hours, as if
the best of friends for years—even longer.
Can you photograph a friendliness?
The sweetness of beer when you are parched?
The joy of knowing a bittersweet
fatigue forefathers might have known, too,
in Ireland, generations before?
In Venice I saw that experience
went down—that I saw less—the more that I
took snapshots, so put down my camera,
an invention that took its name from
room in Latin. The Italian
word for the same thing, however—room—
is stanza. Poetry’s not the same
as photography: but stanza means
stay, too, as a tourist, or as you,
flipping through a picture book or two,
skipping through a poem you’ve picked up
and stayed with awhile, so that the poet’s
experiences are yours as well, awhile.
James B. Nicola’s poems have appeared in such publications as the Antioch, Southwest and Atlanta Reviews. His collections are Manhattan Plaza (2014), Stage to Page (2016), Wind in the Cave (2017) and Out of Nothing: Poems of Art and Artists (2018). He has received a Dana Literary Award, two Willow Review awards, four Pushcart Prize nominations, and a People’s Choice award from Storyteller magazine. His nonfiction book Playing the Audience won a Choice magazine award