Rumpus Original Poetry: Two Poems by John A. Nieves





Balladeer Quatrains

This slant-ass love song is for six storeys
of cement and light and how it held every portable
us blanket-swaddled against scattering. This is
for the width of its spaces, slope of its ramps, the promise

of a place to just stop for a while in a world full
of go go go. This is for the friends on the roof as the fire-
works flew. This is for letting us wait out the down-
pours. This is for the music and the time to hear

it—Murder by Death cello pulled taught across
my days. Even in later works, Turla’s voice brings
me back (she’s a roving ghost) here. This is for all
the heys and good mornings I got to say and mean

and for the people who cannot hear them anymore
ever. This is for the weird shrimpy scent of callery pear
that marked spring in your air. But mostly, this is for the songs
you taught me to write, the curios. I’m sorry this one took so long.


By Heart

You are all chorus and no verse—catchy
and repetitive—just a few words and a rhyme.
            The rabbi next door used to call you
Rice. No one knew why. Sometimes he would

            mumble it like a curse, others he’d blow
it like a kiss. It was the way your head dangled
            just off the pillow that told me you were
            going. You had no bags to pack, no good-

byes to say. The others wondered after you
            in duct tape and crayon, but never really
looked. We were more conjecture than action
            then. The rabbi looked up every time the door

opened. I like to think he was waiting for you,
            missed your hook, your melody. I have no
evidence. One day, he too was the crumbs
            memory makes in the hall. I find myself

humming you sometimes. It is not a longing
but an echo of a longing—a tune to pass
            the time.



Author photo courtesy of author

John A. Nieves has poems forthcoming or recently published in journals such as: North American Review, Copper Nickel, American Poetry Review, American Literary Review, and Southern 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. More from this author →