John Stanizzi


…now bring me a minstrel. And it came to pass, when the minstrel played, that the hand of the Lord came upon him.

                                            2 Kings 3:15

For Jim Mercik and for my father, Giovanirro Emmanuele Stanizzi

Jimmy asks, How many times have you gone

to your father’s grave, and I answer, None.

He says I go and play music for him.

It’s 20 degrees and I have made a

fire that burns so hot we only need

our sweatshirts.  Outside the range of the fire

it’s black and cold, an invisible place

bitter and dark, and though we’re warm enough

an iciness leans on our lower backs,

and as hot as the fire is in front,

behind us is wall of ice wall that groans—

sounds like rifle shots unwelcomed as if

the shooter came to rip us up for fun.

We drink.  Smoke.  Jimmy says, Know what I play?

The Joe Strummer version of Minstrel Boy.

The fire is really stoked now and my

knees are so hot I have to move my chair

up against the frozen and blackened night

which reminds me that we’re not here for long

I know why you don’t go, he says.  I say,

I know why I don’t go, too.  And then we

stop talking.  Drink a little.  Smoke our stogs.

I play it on an old penny whistle,

he tells me.  Man, it’s really beautiful.

Jim says, Let’s go together, you and me.

And I think to myself that if Jesus

really puts his hand on the shoulder of

the minstrel as he plays, Jimmy doesn’t

need me to make his playing more divine,

so instead of ruining things with truth,

I say, Listen man, you three don’t need me.

You’ve got it covered.  You and your whistle.

Jesus with his hand upon your shoulder,

and my father a captive audience.



Just before copulation the male damselfly curls his body so he can transfer a packet of sperm… The female curls her body around until her sexual organs come in contact with the male’s. This forms a shape that’s unique in the insect world and referred to as the “wheel position,” though it actually looks much more like a heart than a wheel.



I never go with hopes of catching fish,

but just to breathe and rest beside the prayer

of the early summer river and watch

its easy pull east, all gloss and swirl and

silence, the occasional otter drawn

along, its sleek wet head and marble eyes

that consider me as it passes by.

Smoke from my cigar is drawn out over

the water, wafting and curling before

it breaks and thins out in the warmer air

above the river, and here at my feet

a damselfly hovers at the crescent.


Mid-June but cold for this time of the year,

and rainy; it has rained for two straight days,

the river full even above the brim,

the meniscus that Robert Frost observed

in a cup, but this does not stop the kids

who are here to celebrate the last day

of school by leaping from the bridge’s rail

out of the freight of gray clouds and into

the river, still winter-cold and churning,

and when their cannonballs break the surface

of the water the stillness is broken

with laughter at the shock of frigidness.


There are five of them, their bikes leaned against

the railing.  The three boys are wearing shorts,

the two girls bikinis that reveal the

tattoos between the dimples on their backs

just above their waistbands.  And I think how

reminiscent the angle of those bikes

leaning there.  They make me think of the ease

with which I balanced and peddled, never

needing rest, never struggling for a breath.

From my coign of vantage along the bank

I see flashes of them behind the leaves,

hear their voices up and down the river.


Also from this spot on the bank I see

the damselfly keeps returning to where

I’m fishing.  She hovers inches above

the lustrous current of the summer stream,

then darts in geometric patterns just

above her own distorted image in

the shadowy swirl and flow.  And I think

is she sizing me up, or is she too

looking at where she came from to get here?

The water where she was born keeps moving

what’s the adagethat it’s never the same

river twice.  Just like the flow of days lived.


The girls are wet and cold and need to change,

and summer is in bloom enough to give

them privacy, but they know too well these

boys who swear to God they won’t sneak a look;

as soon as the girls are hidden in the

bittersweet, the boys begin their tiptoe

strut, in the direction of paradise.

Don’t look! one calls from behind the bushes.

We won’t!  We promise! one of the boys yells,

as they sneak and hoot and slap each other.

This is the way they display their colors.

This is the flying heart they’re working on.


What an amazing metamorphosis,

to go from an earthbound, water-bound nymph,

to a delicate creature who can fly,

as miraculous as when Tyler calls,

Hey Jody, why are your nipples shaped like

starfish, and the other boys laugh and poke

the truthor so it seemshas been exposed;

they have peeked while the girls were changing clothes,

seen what they have always dreamed of seeing,

and emerging from behind the bushes,

Jody, hair shining wet, says through laughter,

Because, Ty, I was born in the water!



November wind

crazed raging

boattailed railer

bellows through the trails

and then rain

nearly black

for two days straight

iridescence vanished

        branches’ genuflection

gems lost until

                    the next slothful silent

                    eruption of thawed earth

Thompson’s General Store

                    seedbed of Eagleville

                                sorts grain rustling in the wooden warehouse

                                tosses pallets to the roadside by the tracks

                                near the burned down restaurant

                                and the cabooseits scorched indifference

                                at the foot of the hills

we arrived from a city

that stopped pulsing on the shore

of the scoured river

                    many years ago

under the misconception

                    that the foul wind from the hill

                                            could not reach down into our blood

we discovered we were wrong

a spark of destruction

submerged beneath our faces

we tried to leave before the lights dimmed

cursing the sky fluorescent

divertimenti of zircon prowling the yard

hangdog blueprints curled on the table



John L. Stanizzi is the author of 6 collections—Ecstasy Among Ghosts, Sleepwalking, Dance Against the Wall, After the Bell, Hallelujah Time!, and High TideEbb Tide. Published widely, he’s had poems in Prairie Schooner, American Life in Poetry, The New York Quarterly, Paterson Literary Review, The Cortland Review, Rattle, Tar River Poetry, and many others.  He’s been translated into Italian and appeared in El Ghibli, in the Journal of Italian Translations Bonafinni, and Poetarium Silva. New work will be out this year in  L’Ombra delle Parole.  His translator is Angela D’Ambra. His new collection, CHANTS, will be out in 2018 with Cervena Barva Press.  John has read and venues all over New England.  A former New England Poet of the Year, John teaches literature at Manchester Community College in Manchester, CT, and lives with his wife, Carol, in Coventry.