From “Back Alley Blackouts”

Excerpts of poetry from a manuscript in progress

By John L. Stanizzi


Wars and temper tantrums are the makeshifts of ignorance; regrets are illuminations come too late.
                                    Joseph Campbell
                                    from The Hero With a Thousand Faces



when the first bug of spring

kamikazed into my beard —

sweat-forest of yard work

and hangover

it brought to mind

images of war


I plucked the bug out

released it into the newly warmed wind

where peace convulsed —

and I sniggered at my embarrassment                        tantrums          regrets


just offshore

weapon erections threaten


there can’t be much time left

for the soldiers resting in the shade

the man and the woman on the blanket in the park

the infant dazzled by the rattle


there has never been all the time to begin with


I want to scream

the lilies are coming

there’s a red-winged blackbird on every branch

you cannot torture me enough to un-love


even though some of the bodies are babies

and you must hose them down

even though the wars that fume

have always raged

and even though when we flay each other

it’s always over the same desire


still the elders come

backpacks strapped on and full of seeds

as resilient as the skunk cabbage

creaking silently up through the hoarfrost


aren’t we all suicide bombers walking staunchly into

a massive private party

the dark cold crowd

shoulder to shoulder and not moving

thick steam rising

hot mist stifling the air


and yet

some of us embrace the futility

emerging in the wetlands


we exchange exhalations

fill each other with our personal cosmos

so that when the sky rains

metal and poison

some of us will chant what we know

as we burst into flames whose snarl

will sound so much like a hymn

that the last thing to melt

will be our hearts

our joyous singing hearts




AAR  (After Action Review)

These fragments I have shored against my ruins.  T.S. Eliot






“Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.”   –Henry Wadsworth Longfellow



the lesson of the back-alley blackout

is that there is no moral

no tidiness

not in this scutwork –


it’s just electricity

in the rusted skull

where in the beginning

the streets were empty                        lovely

smelling of cut grass and sunshine and sticks

(and an angry woman of course

whom I later learned later was only sad)


so be careful not to idealize that Shangri-La


I was just crowding out some other poor sucker

whose luck ran out

on that blessed day





“We are our choices.”   Jean-Paul Sartre


I wanted to say

my hands are mindless

just after I tore into the light with them

as if they had minds of their own









Non nobis solum nati sumus…  (Not for ourselves alone are we born)

 -Marcus Tullius Cicero



            Beside each other on the ground, two yards from right wing, two sacks, A’s and B’s, A’s being to right (as seen from auditorium) of B’s, i.e. nearer right wing.  On ground beside sack B a little pile of clothes neatly folded (coat and trousers surmounted by boots and hat).

            Enter goad, right, strictly horizontal.

                                                                        -Samuel Becket

                                                                        Act Without Words II


you carry yourself

in a heavy canvass bag

your bones       your tears        your forced laughter


the rain is hard and silver

on the glassy highway

the windshield wipers

lag behind the rhythm of tractor trailers

and the syrinx of rain drums and hisses at once

out of the viscous gray sky


here                 I will put my bag down for a while


and carry yours




“Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.”  -C. S. Lewis



they could not forbid you from listening to the music you loved

or determine for you which melodies would mold your spirits to their image

any more than I can

scream at God

to stop the executions             the beatings

the cacophonous rantings of men raving

from the bombed-out rubble of their own design


trapped in the gray grating undertow of old photos

I fold my mindless hands


fold my hands mindlessly






The Road of Life is 30 miles long.  Lake Ladoga, Russia — The largest lake in Europe, located in northwestern Russia about 25 miles east of St. Petersburg.


let’s avoid the road of life

until we can cross safely

by boat




“Thin Rain, whom are you haunting,

                 That you haunt my door?”  – Edna St. Vincent Millay


we all arrive to such ruins

in such ruins


nightly beatings in fraudulent light

weeping children always on the perimeter

the wind quieting

and you falling in the middle of the walk

shocked into broken pieces

bits of you tumbling and crashing away

a macabre replica of motorcycle chunks

bounding down a bloody highway

revealing lies and trickery

and a love that cannot be given a name

unless you name it carnage




“…let the verdict be heard like thunder, like a fresh, purifying thunder storm of Soviet justice.”  Andrey Vyshinsky referencing a “fifth column” of enemies, traitors, and spies that seek to undermine the Soviet Union and that must be crushed during The Great Terror.



the warm silks of skunk cabbage melt the snow

and the wake-robin, its minion

emerges too from the brown scrub of winter

drinking in the leftovers

reaching through the cold crust

that had pressed its weight

where it was thought no warmth could rise


in my country our own brand of Reichsmordwoche

like population management among deer herds

the gift of massacre     a deed of some skill

the littlest enemies ruined



and afterwards

their parents evaporating

into a hope the purge cannot swallow

the jape on the sinner’s dark heart      always




Bless me, Father, for I have sinned…  (How one begins Confession)


someone utters the word Catholic

and always

several people giggle quietly

in on the not-so-secret secret

we keep returning to


folding our hands




In order to see birds it is necessary to become a part of the silence.   -Robert Lynd


why is the wind not crowded with the feathers

of cardinals that have gone

and surely we should find a bone or two

or a single feather

if not a blinding gale of red


dandelions scatter nearly to the horizon

stopped only by a stand of maples

beginning now to show the goodwill of their leaves

small red buds that become green       yellow             red again

before falling


but these are not the feathers of cardinals




from the shore

I pushed and struck the oars, and struck again

In cadence, and my little boat moved on

Just like a man who walks with stately step

Though bent on speed.                        -William Wordsworth



at the tiny boat launch just wide enough for a battered pick-up

a group of middle-school children and their teacher

are discussing water safety

and how to maneuver a canoe on the river



last year’s leaves are having a rough day

whole trees have been felled by beavers

the perfect oval signatures of their teeth

written over and over again where bark was

and a dead tree in the middle of the river

massive driftwood

bares its roots to the sky

its top branches stroking the river bottom


the children are laughing

not a hint of pain in their voices


a chipping sparrow keeps flying

from one side of the river to the other

asking me to go back across with him

to get a better look at these children

their teacher

their red canoes


I’ve been fishing for an hour

without a single bite    which is fine with me

when inexplicably       after all six canoes       all 12 children

and their teacher are on the river

floating aimlessly just off the boat launch

paddles echoing off the sides of the canoes

laughter ribboning upriver and down –

–only then do I get my first nibble

which makes me smile


in one boat two children paddle furiously forward

as they drift softly backwards            laughing down river

the current having its way with them

their beautiful voices a kind of engine

that has failed them


it was a small yellow perch     7 or 8 inches

and as I reeled it in

the children hollered

let’s see!          let’s see!

and I held it up for a moment before tossing it back

into the shallows at the shoreline

where it did not move for a moment

before it flashed off

a shard of stunned sun

that only I could see

that morning with the teacher

the children

the red canoes

on the languid river flow




Nothing in his life

Became him like the leaving it. 

-William Shakespeare




before you

your mother and I were lost

in an airy mahogany apartment

twin oaks massive on the tiny lawn

and the front porch opened to the tops of trees

the front room cooled always

by thick shadows


the only comfort here was that

the color of the light

was the same color as the light in Sosie’s bedroom

shadow-gray enfolding the framed photo of Zio Daniel in his coffin

gray light the same color as Zio Daniel


a reminder always of the things we prayed for