James B. Nicola

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