Four poems by John A. Nieves

To Sampson from the Back Porch

Dear Mr. Hat, How do we talk now

                   across this path from renovated to American

               burnweed bed to worn to newer? It’s hard to say

                            if the same wind hushed the same loblolly

               needles nightly into morning. It’s harder to say

furnace without fire. Where did the cats sleep?

                             In what crack? Under which floor? The brick

               stack hides clouds like clouds hide. All alone

in the sky, a shrine to molten iron and what fell

               from it and what stayed: you. Not your shoes. Not

the company. Not the century. Here in the whiskers

                            and wavyleaf basketgrass where you should be

                                         sleeping, where the long alphabet of your body

should translate directly into this ground, more

              yours than Maryland’s, more you than place. If

you could call them all, every hungry mew, every

                            smoky ear or alligator eye, would you name

them again or love them as one body, as the one

                                         thing you couldn’t keep in place?

New Release (Fortuna Minor)

Once a song I wrote took

a vacation to the headwaters

of the Mississippi and was


surprised none of its notes

or glints or droplets had any

urge to go to sea. The ground


there was lovely—a rocky

loam flecked with mica and the trees

stretch their arms up to the rain

waiting to fall to find roots

to point it back to where it came

from. Which is the point. The song


came back to my fingers and my mouth.

It roosted proud but refused

the microphone or the tape

recorder and the last line became

a long, slow inhalation, ended

with closed lips, still hands.

Charge Slip (Cauda Draconis)


In the hotel windows there

               are piles of light dripping

                             slowly down the blurred

               faces, the living transitions

of home to away to home.

                             The sun comes satisfied

               with the friction

of the night. If anything is

               born of it, it is

this: these little marks insisting

                             they exist as pixel and paper

and breath—the raw stuff

               of songs and sagas, the names

                             we say to ourselves

               in the dimmest dreamlight

the half green, half purple

               halo of the just extinguished

                             world. And the roads have

too much to say about it

                              in their swan-wing swish.

               They say it to the red-

                              head at the desk: just

enter anything. They are gone before

                you file it. They are gone before

the sheen of your hair reaches

                their retinas. The instant

coffee lasts so much longer

            it seems a monument to those

                         who have passed before it.

You have passed

             before it. I have passed before

                          it. The steam hangs longer than

our memories in this lobby,

            on this well worn carpet

on this spot on this map that most

                          eyes will never even try to find.

Happy birthday anniversary fourth

           of July holidays day

                         off soup of the day. Please

            sign here.

And the First to Fall Was the Poet


The sap, thick and white, sears

skin with suppurated kisses, clings

in opalescent flakes and takes

the flesh apart. The sap, the blood.


The blood, penny-flecked

and coagulating, drowns the leaf,

starves the plant. Cuts its link

to the sun. The blood, the light.


The light, the soft current, the chiseler

of every bust, the tinter of each

illumination. Teaches letter to eyes

so eyes can mouth. The light, the sound.


The sound, the other way we know

each other, our accents, the tempo

and intensity of laughter, the whistled

pitch through fletching. The sound, my own,

echoing down this wall.

John A. Nieves has poems forthcoming or recently published in journals such as: North American Review, Crazyhorse, Southern Review, Harvard Review and Massachusetts Review. He won the Indiana Review Poetry Contest and his first book, Curio, won the Elixir Press Annual Poetry Award Judge’s Prize. He is associate professor of English at Salisbury University and an editor of The Shore Poetry. He received his M.A. from University of South Florida and his Ph.D. from the University of Missouri.