James B. Nicola: Collector Of Souls
Image: Unsplash, downloaded (https://unsplash.com/photos/hyYJKOZp2Og) 06.01.2023.
The Chemical & the Civilized
Chance fancy fully felt finally flares
up fatally, unless some civilizing
soon squelches Chance’s flare-up of the fancy.
Isn’t that what Civilization is?
We would not be inert, though, and were made
to combine into compounds. Some to last,
others concocted to be volatile
and fast react again. The bottled brews
and phialed philtres, also known as souls
of radicals or revolutionaries,
were rowed in racks of Gilbert® chemistry sets
then safely shelved in comfortable homes
erected in an age of middle classes,
then, after adolescence, learned to move
in cars, trains, buses, airplanes, and to work
sealed up in skyscrapers and cubicles,
only to return at ends of days to spend
the night once more en-bottled, not embattled,
folded into chemistry kits and locked.
But is that what civilization is,
or only what civilization was?
For in far-off, less technical domains,
and here at home, as middle classes die,
an ardor has alit on rainbow dusts
impressionable as ions, which combine.
And now the Chemist’s spreading shoulders wide
across the sea of troubles. Volatile
and agitated ions leaping up
in eager anger, ready to react,
must be rebunged and filed—Chance be destroyed—
or won’t they be
On Meeting Someone Wonderful for the First or Second Time
I’ve been a collector of souls
but never a capturer. And there
are some I’ve never met, but read
or seen and heard. They, like the Holy Ghost,
can spread as cool flames can, igniting me
as with a soft and supple warmth and light,
and have from time to time inspired a heart
to drive a mind and hand so that I have
a part of them no longer them but lit
by them, herein, as if they were around.
Have you ever met or seen or read
a soul like that? imagined a wooded walk
with Henry David, or honey gathering
with Emily? The soul may be a character
from fiction: I’ve imagined Adam Bede
as my employer, as I’ve wondered what
it might be like to hear his belovèd preach
or, years after The End, to meet their issue,
industrious, fair and kind, black curly hair.
From time to time I’ve sat down in a spot
and seen a stranger walk in, and sit near,
and sometimes conversation has been struck
somehow; and sometimes we would never speak,
but I would think of desultory paths
intersecting with an introduction,
in another life. I’ve met the best
souls in the world this way, though rarely now.
But this week, I met one for the first time,
another for the second (by the river,
our exercise routes crossing). Gender does
not matter, at this point, for they are souls
which—who, had we been college students, say,
at dinner, and plopped down next to each other,
both new, and struck up strangers' conversation
as you’re allowed to do when you are young,
I might have thought no more than Gee, I think
if everyone’s like this, I’ll like it here.
The first time I thought this was the first day
of freshman year, of someone who became
my best friend after fraught and faithful years.
But now I’m hungry to collect, if not
capture, two souls whose emails I've tracked down.
And every day’s like Freshman week again
with hope that makes the hunger almost holy.
The Dining Hall's no meager meeting room,
however, but wide as the whole world—two
worlds—three—theirs, mine—where just to talk requires
some technological innovation
plus the pluck and resilience of a whole new age.
About the Author: James B. Nicola’s poems have appeared in the Antioch, Southwest and Atlanta Reviews; Rattle; and Barrow Street. His seven full-length collections (2014-22) are Manhattan Plaza, Stage to Page, Wind in the Cave, Out of Nothing: Poems of Art and Artists, Quickening, Fires of Heaven, and Turns & Twists (just out). His nonfiction book Playing the Audience won a Choice award. His poetry has received a Dana Literary Award, two Willow Review awards, Storyteller's People's Choice award, one Best of Net, one Rhysling, and eight Pushcart nominations—for which he feels both stunned and grateful. A graduate of Yale, he hosts the Hell's Kitchen International Writers' Round Table at his library branch in Manhattan: walk-ins welcome.