- Yearning After Love
James B. Nicola
Finishing Line Press
105 Pages; Print, $18.99
James B. Nicola's sets the stage for his latest book of poetry, Wind in the Cave, with the epigraph "My desire's a wind trapped in a cave" from Theodore Roethke's "What Can I Tell My Bones," a part of the "Meditations of an Old Woman" section of Roethke's 1958 seminal Words for the Wind. Behind Roethke's beautiful line, of course, looms Plato's allegory of the cave from The Republic. Plato's porte-parole Socrates describes prisoners who live chained to the wall of a cave all of their lives, watching shadows projected on the wall from objects passing in front of a fire behind them. For Plato, the shadows become the reality in which the prisoners live, a distortion of a true reality that the chains of human existence and the limitations of human perception prevent the prisoners from seeing.
A large number of the 88 poems in Wind in the Cave revolve around the metaphor, simile, or allegory of a wind, gust of air, fire, smoke, or sound that is captive in a cave, cavern, balloon, or other self-contained place that constrains or conceals, yet sometimes also protects. The pleasure and point of reading Wind in the Cave is discovering the various creative ways that Nicola depicts the basic concept of a gas—something shapeless and boundless—contained by space and darkness.
Lost love animates these poems. For Nicola, the wind in the cave is yearning for an absent love-object. These are mostly poems of craving for a love who is unavailable—past love, dead love, forgotten love, unrequited love, forbidden love, imagined love—but always love that seems to hollow out the heart and soul of the poem's voice and fill it with yearning for the object of affection. Nicola admits as much at the beginning of the emotional "Cotton Candy Cancer," which uses the empty feeling one gets after eating too much sugar as a metaphor for being lovesick. The poem opens with "There are many ways to convey / the soughing of the wind in the cave the cave / being the emptiness inside, a metaphor."
Throughout the collection, Nicola keeps reinventing his interior wind—this emptiness that stirs and agitates. For example:
Boxes of sounds train bearers not to listen"Boxes"
I thought a week's proximity would douse
the pilot light that you left on in me…"Pilot Light"
a river trip, the gondola to hell
past stalagmite and stalactites of flames…"The Styx"
In these three examples, Nicola depicts Roethke's wind as a sound, a pilot light, and a gondola, while the cave takes the shape of a box, a person, and the path of the River Styx on its way to Hades. In each case, the gas in these images represents a longing for a love that is no longer available. In the next three examples, the gas of longing is the wind, a man's warmth, and a whistle, while the containment vessel is the heart, a balloon inside guts, and a person's core:
What cavern? Why the carapacial heart—so hollow, though, that I can almost hearthe wind there echo, fade and rise again…"Cavern"
I went and he behavedso warmly that I felt the greatballoon inside my gut [End Page 22] start to fill with his warmth, inflate""Expectation"
What do you do when that Someone whistlesinto your everywhere and, likea gust of wind, makes you gaspfrom your core, your lungs, your cave?"Cutting Board"
In a real sense, besides just containing the love, the container distorts it the way Plato's cave distorts the reality of the sun's light into a shadow world. At each new variation on his theme of the ache for the beloved, Nicola's network of images gains in thematic unity and musicality.
Nicola is a seasoned poet with two books to his name, as well as many individual poems published in a wide array of journals, including about half the poems...