After the Peloponnesian Wars: a Microcosm

A Villanelle

At last I grasp what I could never get:
As long as man has heart, hope can exist.
Doom’s not your only master, then. And yet

for years I thought―thought hard, without regret―
the reverse, as fatalist and humanist.
But now I grasp what I could never get.

For this I owe Thucydides a debt
of thanks. You haven’t read him? Here’s his gist:
That Doom is not our only master. Yet

free men do act with folly. Do not let
their acts, however, serve as catalyst.
I only grasped what I could never get

last night while on the subway where I met
a rude man, mean-mouthed, brandishing a fist.
For Doom not to become my master yet―

I prayed for him! He could have been a vet,
shell-shocked, in need of a psychiatrist. . . .
So peace prevailed, which I could never get
before. And Doom was not my master, yet.


Three Flowers

I’m three flowers interchangeably,
depending on the nose.
A carnation, not infrequently;
and now and then, a rose.

But it must seem to you of late
those symbols have grown old,
that I’ve begun to germinate
into a marigold

of potent perfume, so a hedge
of me keeps back the bugs
when planted at the garden’s edge,
susceptible to slugs.

And golden hues are useless there
where not a passing soul
has been inclined to pick and wear
me in their buttonhole.

Come closer to the flower bed,
though, fix your eyes on me,
and you’ll see only pink or red
and smell no pungency

but sniff and in an instant tell
that a carnation grows
for you to wear in your lapel
if not, in fact, a rose.


James B. Nicola’s nonfiction book Playing the Audience won a Choice award. His two poetry collections, published by Word Poetry, are Manhattan Plaza (2014) and Stage to Page: Poems from the Theater (2016). He won a Dana Literary Award, a People’s Choice award (from Storyteller) and a Willow Review award; was nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize and once for a Rhysling Award; and was featured poet at New Formalist. A Yale graduate as well as a composer, lyricist, and playwright, James has been giving both theater and poetry workshops at libraries, literary festivals, schools, and community centers all over the country. His children’s musical Chimes: A Christmas Vaudeville premiered in Fairbanks, Alaska, where Santa Claus was rumored to be in attendance on opening night. 

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One Response

  1. James Sale

    Very, very fine poems – I really loved them both. Your villanelle is hypnotic and I love the ease with which you summarise Thucydides – masterful writing.


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