James B. Nicola
I drew a doodle on a legal pad—
there was a lull—but then ran out of ink.
I changed pens. It was fortunate I had
another one. But it was red. I think
the combination of the colors made
me swirl and doodle more creatively,
with more abandon, as if the moment bade
me, transporting me to this memory:
One day when I was still in grammar school,
we had a guest. He wore a beard and beads,
and sandals on his feet. It was a cool
New England autumn, one of those days that’s
crispy and fine, and he took us outside
to help him stir a row of simmering vats
in every color: blue like the blue in the book
of blue, dark yellow, red like a cut when it bleeds.
He’d brought a pile of tee-shirts, all plain white,
and one by one we dipped them in the dye
a moment or two—not so long that they’d cook,
he said—then twisted them. Or did we twist
them first, then dip? I don’t remember, quite.
We paused between each dip—I’m pretty sure,
he said, to keep the cauldrons’ colors pure—
then hung the patterned tee-shirts up to dry
and swung on the swings to wait, where both our guest
and teacher joined us that day. And they said
there would be no awards for whose was best,
no gold stars (I wished I had used more red),
that design in this case was not the gist
of the art, but rather, the unexpected.
Unique as snowflakes, or as fingerprints,
the prints from waxes peaceably applied,
they said it was as if we’d been tie-dyed.
We put the dried things on—they were still warm—
and saw what our guest and our teacher meant,
each tie-dyed tee-shirt like a uniform,
but each one wildly, equally, different.
They made our fifth grade one, as we would stay
till the end of the year, beginning with that day.
It was our moment—our secret moment,
a secret guarded closely ever since.
Today our outer casements, black and gray,
have come to order in a paneled room.
Beneath, though, the remembrance of a spray
of bright wax lies in wait, and wants to bloom.
James B. Nicola, winner of three poetry awards and recipient of one Rhysling and two Pushcart nominations, has published 400 poems in Atlanta Review, Tar River, Texas Review, &c. A Yale grad and stage director by profession, his book Playing the Audience won a Choice Award. First full-length collection: “Manhattan Plaza” scheduled for 2014.