James B. Nicola 🔈
After the recipe writing challenge.
Strung from his neck, it beat his chest, the coin-sized disc of gray. His was a secret
soul, I guessed, with a quiet way. His other pendants: a stone wreath (whose
point I can’t recall) and a wee cross (the Catholic faith). Those three were all.
His torso sculpted, they would glimmer, sometimes even gleamed, and show
their edges hard as him — or rather, as he seemed. Throughout the tour, he
always dressed in white and gray and black, groomed perfectly, each garment
pressed miraculously from his sack, while our attire was wrinkle-ridden (I
speak for most of us). And he would always opt to sit in the back row of the
I’d said hello, one castle walk. He answered, “Austrian.” (He didn’t seem to want to
talk.) Another time, “Johann.” I asked about his pendants, what they meant and
such, one day. The wreath and cross, he told me. “And the disc?” He didn’t say.
The seventh day, the rain a sin, the wind a sudden squall, the group decided to dine
in, near Dingle, in Annascaul. At half-five we convened to shop and organized
a plan of who should toss and who should chop. And who would chef? —
Johann, who was in fact a chef by trade, on ships once, now Dublin. The pasta
dish that Johann made was tastier than sin. Though Simon helped, he
said he barely sliced the bread, for Johann was the expert “and did it all,” he
said. When Sham and Jeremy washed and dried, as much as he’d allow, we
clapped for him and stamped and cried for him to take a bow. “I never get the
chance to cook a meal like this, because I’m only a sous-chef at work,” he said,
to more applause. “Don’t you thank us. — No, you’re the star. — That was
amazin', man!” When Marty took out his guitar you should have heard Johann
invent a counter-harmony to Ride On, our tour song. Third verse, he took the
lead, while we, as chorus, sang along. And his three charms, approaching night,
now that I think of it, kept capturing beams of evening light, glimmering a bit.
The days remaining of our ten-day tour — well, came and went.
I never thought to ask again what Johann’s gray disc meant.
About the Author
James B. Nicola’s poems have appeared in the Antioch, Southwest and Atlanta Reviews, Rattle, Barrow Street, Tar River, and Poetry East. His full-length collections are Manhattan Plaza (2014), Stage to Page (2016), Wind in the Cave (2017), Out of Nothing: Poems of Art and Artists (2018), Quickening: Poems from Before and Beyond (2019), and Fires of Heaven: Poems of Faith and Sense (2021). His nonfiction book Playing the Audience won a Choice award. He has received a Dana Literary Award, two Willow Review awards, Storyteller’s People’s Choice award, and eight Pushcart nominations.