John L. Stanizzi – Four Poems

Karma Sonnets
-for Dick Allen


Utu Niuyama
            – the unerring order of seasons

Garlic cloves huddle
in the frozen ground
gathering their warmth,
faint and just enough
to keep them alive
underneath the snow,
their shoots taken down
by the brittle wind.
            But the seasons grind
toward spring and light and
warm rain that wakes them,
and brings to life their
glowing pungency.


Bija Niyama
            – peculiar characteristics of certain fruits

Cousin Joe gave me
the tree, a rite of
passage, the mystique
of figs, ostiole
with the outside world,
breathing in the light
that will coat each seed.
            But the sugary
fruit is much too much
to resist, and at
the dawn we’re left with
fruitless branches and
our hearts thick with seeds.


Karma Niyama
-sequence of deed and effect is as natural and necessary
as the way of the sun and the moon

Sun and moon shall rise,
not as good and bad,
evil and kindness,
but as sun and moon,
as such things can be
which are vanishing
toward their own level.
            But desire is
the orchard in our-
selves, and shade the dark-
ness, the sequence of
what happens when we
dance for joy in space.


Citta Niyama
            -arising and perishing of consciousness

born of the nightmares
from which I wake you,
you ask Where is Gus
who has been dead now
for three months and can
only seem to be
sitting in the room.
            But still you ask me
from your hood of mist
and all I manage
to say to you is
I can’t say for sure,
which is truthfulness.


Dhamma Niyama 
-natural reason for being good
-for Dick

You sang, grounded to
your bed, surrounded
by songs and ideas,
sang bodhisattva,
sang and sang of the
shadowy places,
of flight and pursuit,
of stillness and songs.
            But then you left us
with the illusion
of silence, and for
a moment we thought
you were gone, until
pages themselves sang.



Easy to miss the connection
between Blake’s hapless soldiers
and the kids who die now
for the massive mechanism of greed —
easy to overlook Emily’s crucial warning  —
Demur – you’re straightway dangerous –
And handled with a Chain –

But this morning
when I limped
into the classroom
nursing my worn knee,
the room ignited with interest,
something like attention.

Later that evening,
at the Dog Lane Pub,
my students will chuckle about
gimpy old professor-man,
and they’ll recall every detail
about my broken-down wheel.

But what none of them knew was
that this was a day of healing –
Olawunmi from Ghana
had stayed behind.
I was sitting now, leg-weary,
and Ola said,
slightly embarrassed,
You’ll think this is random,
but may I pray on your knee?
and I asked, rather meekly,
Do I need to do anything?

She knelt before me,
said No,
placed her hands over
the brittle knee,
rested her forehead
on the backs of her hands
and prayed for healing,
the banishment of pain,

the miracle of walking
like a young man
in Jesus name, Amen.

When she left
my knee still raged with pain,
but my soul,
my soul was well-healed.



From the recording Miles & Coltrane
Newport Jazz Festival — Fourth of July,1958.

At the 7.59 mark of Straight, No Chaser, during Paul Chambers’ bass solo, someone coughs.
“The reward for playing jazz is playing jazz.”
— John Lewis

One second before the clock
strikes the end of the minute,
a small itch at the back of the throat
can be heard,
a little one-note burst,
an improvised human sound
that demands to be uttered,
a cough, though cough
may be too strong a word.
It’s sounds more like
the way a quarter-note looks,
the smallest push of voice
placed amid a crowd of sound,
and entirely necessary.

And who was it
who had the unstoppable urge
to express that sound?
It probably wasn’t Paul —
he was nattering with the bass,
with blind clarity,
with something like trust,
while the others were where
thought enters breath,
weaving fiery synapses
into a language in the air
that we cannot speak
yet we understand, intangible,
and as beautiful and impossible
as a mockingbird atop a pole,
a little whole-note
taking in everything around him
and making it his own
with all the precious breath
he can gather,
playing it into the air,
which makes it all worth it,
which makes it all disappear.
I’m taken by the casualness of the cough,
its accessibility —
while the rest of the band
converses in verses
of invented direction,
oblivious of their destination until they arrive,
one stopped along the way
for an unadorned expression,
a connection with the listener
as vital as the humanity
which surrounds us,
and though I cannot recall how jazz
entered my veins,
I do remember high school hallways
where kids sang I Want to Hold Your Hand,
while I hummed Monk’s Dream,
learning to make up my life
as I went along.

            for Tahreem, in friendship.

Your downstairs neighbor said
You make too much noise.

But I live alone you said
how can I make too much noise?

She said You just make too much noise.
And why do you wear that thing on your head?
You the Taliban or Al-Qaeda?

And you make too much noise
watering your plants
and your water drips down
from your balcony to mine.

You said But I don’t have any plants.
and your downstairs neighbor said
Good.  That’s one less thing for you to kill.


Author’s Statement on Beauty

My life has been blessed far beyond my wildest imaginings – my family, my friends, my teaching, my writing life – sometimes when my inner self decides to ponder this wonder, my outer self tries to deflect such thoughts.  Now, if you found yourself asking, Why would you deflect thoughts about your blessings, I can answer that.  I am simply not done yet.  Of course, I am entirely aware of how good life has been to me, to be sure.  I NEVER, not for a single moment, take any of it for granted.  I’m one hell of a lucky guy.  But I have many, many more poems to write.  And speaking of blessings – poetry has saved my life at least six times – and I do not mean metaphorically – I mean literally.  How beautiful and unlikely a truth is that?  And so I have a debt to pay to the art that has kept me alive.  That is almost more beautiful than I can express.  I have children and grandchildren and great grandchildren to help navigate through this insane world.  I have my wife.  My mother, who is 90.  I still teach Literature (a dream of mine since I was very young), and I have my students, who oftentimes are lost or frustrated or troubled.  I feel so privileged to be able to be there for them.  I have work to do.  And every day…every day…I have the amazing birds, the moods of weather, rain storms, the sea, the seasons, the sky, my kitties, my friends, my colleagues, my life, all of nature…and…and the profound and waxing preciousness of every new day.  I am overwhelmed by beauty, Kate.  I frequently share Annie Dillard’s profound words with my family, my students, and of course, I remind myself about them, too.  Annie tells us, “Beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” I try to be there…every day.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get to work….on something.



John L. Stanizzi is the author of six full-length collections – Ecstasy Among Ghosts, Sleepwalking, Dance Against the Wall, After the Bell, Hallelujah Time!, and High Tide – Ebb Tide. His work has been published in Prairie Schooner, American Life in Poetry, The New York Quarterly, Rattle, Tar River Poetry, and many other journals. Many of his poems have been translated into Italian and have appeared in El Ghibli, in the Journal of Italian Translations Bonafinni, Masaici, and Poetarium Silva. His translator is the poet, Angela D’Ambra. John has read at venues all over New England, including readings with Carl Dennis, Gerald Stern, Alicia Ostriker, and Marilyn Nelson. His brand new book, a memoir written in sonnets, called Chants, will be published in 2018 by Cervena Barva Press. John is on the boards of the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival, The West End Poetry Society, and he works as a teaching artist with Poetry Out Loud, the national recitation contest. He teaches literature in an adjunct capacity at Manchester Community College in Manchester, CT, and lives in Coventry, CT. with his wife, Carol, and four black kitties.