When the Pebbles Moved

James B. Nicola

Less conspicuous than Death the towels hung
and froze where Mrs. had but lately hung
them, reprimanding the dark maid who’d hung
them carelessly, a corner caught in a crumple.

Mrs. was elegant in her correcting,
fond of correcting as much as her son
was fond of the rogue maid, who knew him better
than Mrs. The maid stood: silent, proper, dutiful.

Outside, the gravel walk, awash in pebbles,
aligned crisp troops of topiary. This suburb
was well-to-do, the gardeners’ work and the maids’
groomed perfectly—most of the time. Although

when the rumble rose here, when the Sphinx shook all,
looking back to Bethlehem, the perfect pebbles
gave way even absent cars; the burnished bushes
trembled; but the disciplined towels held their posts

for all that they were rehung after use
as properly as possible by the five-year-old.
This gardener, caught clipping back the juniper hedge,
and this maid, wearily waxing the kitchen floor,

never saw the boisterous boy, blinded by tears,
crumpling his bedclothes, face thrust in his pillow,
terrified by the bright light and sudden heat,
unaware that his parents stood at the Country Club

trying to get in their daily allotment
of exercise, fixed forever on the green
of Hole Three, stooping to adjust rogue blades
some mower had missed, lamenting the help, and the times.

The boy had overheard his elegant mother
correcting his beloved maid for what he’d done.
And now his tears will shine his face forever;
his boisterous resilience, robbed of one last chance.


James B. Nicola's poems have appeared in riverbabble, the Antioch, Southwest and Atlanta Reviews, Rattle, Tar River, and Poetry East. A Yale grad, 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. His nonfiction book Playing the Audience won a Choice award. James’s two poetry collections, published by Word Poetry, are Manhattan Plaza (2014) and Stage to Page: Poems from the Theater (2016). Coming up: Out of Nothing: Poems of Art and Artists (Shanti Arts)—with pictures! sites.google.com/site/jamesbnicola.

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