John L. Stanizzi
Bio Note: My brand new book, POND, was just released about a month ago by 'imspired,' with major thanks to Editor, Steve Cawte in Lincoln, England. My next book, Feathers and Bones is out for consideration. And here I was, stuck, looking for a project. I had never tried much ekphrastic work so I thought I would dive in head first and see what happened. I have used the notion of "ekphrastic" quite loosely, and here are some of the poems. Thanks for reading, Community Friends.
Christmas Tree Farm
Mid December’s dirt hill from the upper field down to the gravel parking lot is shining flat mud, and the moment I tap the brakes the tires seize up and the tractor begins to slide down the hill— no stopping it no steering it— and the trailer, overloaded with trees, kicks left and right trying to get out ahead of the tractor and the old man hollers “Get yer God damn foot off the brake, Boy!” And sure enough, when I do, I start to roll easily down the hill until I get to the gravel parking lot. Regaining control, I come to a stop and the tree-wrappers hop-to it, unloading the trailer so I can head back up the hill for another load; the tension and focus of sledding down the slimy hill are lifted from my gut as I begin to relax. The higher I go the broader and deeper the acres of Christmas Trees become, and the more quiet the world is— hawks float high in the air signifying silence, and hundreds of bluebirds on Fraser Fir boughs, are tiny ornaments, the fluttering of their blue illuminated wings, their glowing, rustic breasts, their grace.
Originally published in publication
Basic Training, Fort Dix, New Jersey, 1968. The Viet Nam War was an epidemic as was our thinly-veiled fear. Every Saturday night the USO dropped off two bus-loads of women from Camden to Dix. I say “women,” but these women were 18 or 19 years old, just like us “soldiers.” One Saturday night, as the women were boarding the buses back to Camden, one girl caught my eye, and we had a rushed conversation laughing about who knows what; the buses were idling, their clamorous engines grumbling, their exhaust in broad gray plumes mounting in the frigid air. As she boarded, I called out, I’ll see you here next week! and she smiled— an exquisite smile of confirmation reaching into the being of a lonely boy’s essence. The following Saturday evening I waited in front of the huge brick building, with its massive fluted columns, and eventually, there among the crowd I found her, and I could see that she was as happy to see me as I was to see her. ** The space in the basement of the big building had been cleared out, and made into a dance floor. All the way around the room were small tables, fit for two people, four if you squeezed in, and for the next couple of months we managed to get the same table, which became a kind of a “thing,” an act of serious importance. ** We danced, we talked, we laughed, we ate the free chips and drank 3.2 beer. And I remember this so clearly; we were having so much fun that neither of us thought to ask the other’s name. Finally, at week three, I laughed out loud and as if I were telling a joke, I said, Oh, by the way, I’m Johnnie. She laughed, too. That’s so funny, she giggled. Very nice to meet you. I’m Mary. ** The big room was dimly lit and extremely crowded. There were dozens of “soldiers” and “women” dancing and kissing on the dance floor. Mary and I kissed too; but mostly we’d just lean across the tiny table and kiss right there, sitting in our chairs, being careful not to spill our beers. One night, Mary got up, stepped back a bit onto the dance floor, and said, Come here for a minute, Johnnie. I got up and stood beside her and she snapped a Polaroid of our table— I want a picture to remember us, she said, and I recall being touched by something that landed in that wasteland between love and dreadful sadness. A photo of our table…without us sitting at it. Just a picture, a picture of where we had met for a time. ** I suggested we take a walk one evening. Mary, let’s go outside for a while, and we did. We talked and laughed and held hands as we made our way around the back of the big building. It was exceptionally dark and there was nothing we could see, really, except a massive lawn that faded into the blackness of the night. It was in that blackness that we would disappear and make out, her tongue, which had forgotten to ask my name, touching my tongue, which had forgotten to ask hers. ** I felt trapped. M16, bayonet, entrenching tool, and me, Soldier NG2108982, while at the same time I was still 18 year old Johnnie Stanizzi, kissing Mary whom I didn’t know a single thing about, caressing her in an embrace that was new and wonderful. ** We did this for 24 weeks— the excitement rising in my belly as the buses approached, the easy conversation, the dancing, a few beers, kissing across the table or behind the building. and then, ultimately, the sadness every time the buses pulled away. We never exchanged home information, phone numbers, addresses. I think we both realized the truth— this was a Fort Dix thing. It began there, and it would end there, and it was somehow ghostly fantastic. ** The other night I dreamed about Mary— the first time in many, many years. We were walking toward the back of the building, and everyone we passed was very young. In fact, the truth is that I hardly recognized Mary; she, like me, had gotten old. I still think about you, Johnnie. For a moment I felt my legs weaken. I think about you too, Mary, I said. She handed me a photograph. Do you remember the night I took this? I took the photo, mesmerized. Time and the world had not been any kinder to the old photo than it had been to Mary or me. But there it was— our table, the old lamp post casting just enough light to brighten a memory. When I looked up from the photo Mary was gone, and my hands were empty. Then I heard the sound of a bus way off in the distant black, far across the harvested fields; it was making the sound a bus makes as it motors its way farther and farther into the distance, the sound a bus makes when you know it’s never coming back
©2021 John L. Stanizzi
Editor's Note: If this poem(s) moves you please consider writing to the author (email address above) to tell her or him. You might say what it is about the poem that moves you. Writing to the author is what builds the community at Verse Virtual. It is very important. -JL