I’LL TAKE YOU THERE
…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 adage—that 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 truth—or so it seems—has 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!
bellows through the trails
and then rain—
for two days straight
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 caboose—its 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 Tide–Ebb 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.