James B. Nicola


The Lie of Words

A metaphor is but a lie
Unless it tries to clarify.

Some say that a simile
Is metaphor; some disagree.
Looked it up and both are true,
Just as New York isn’t New
York City, necessarily.
So it is with simile
And metaphor.

But why compare,
If, like Oakland, there’s no There

There can be, though, no success
With any metaphor unless
Each word in the metaphor
Takes the place of ten or more.

Metaphors will breed like lice
Unless they strive to be concise.
I was summoned by this thought
And thought about the thought a lot.

When the image doesn’t do;
When the trope’s not even true;
When comparing disparate things
Makes us feel like queens and kings
Instead of gadflies, fools, and those
Who would infect if not depose—
Poets, that is!—then the cost
Is Conscience, and our All is lost.

Stick your finger in the air—
Only then should we compare!

If our words aren’t dangerous,
What’s the point of them—or us?

Slinging symbol, riff, and trope
Is the literary dope
Of those who’ve got their MFA
But not, per se, a lot to say.

James B. Nicola‘s poems have appeared in Light, The Antioch Review, Southwest and Atlanta Reviews, Rattle, Tar River, and Poetry East. His nonfiction book Playing the Audience won a Choice award. 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) and Quickening: Poems from Before and Beyond (2019). sites.google.com/site/jamesbnicola.