“In Service” By James B. Nicola

When you bow down, bow low so that your fore-
head touches the ground. Then the emperor
or president is pleased. This is the way
to fool the fool so he won’t ask for more.

Should Caesar linger long enough, try kneeling.
This might convince him, if he’s at all feeling,
that he owes you. And he may knight you, say
a word that sends attendant massed souls reeling.

At mass, or in a mosque, when you kowtow
or kneel, though, Whom do you propitiate?
No God or Allah can be conned or cares
to smile like Caesar settling for a bow.
At kneeling moments, I’ve preferred, of late,
remaining seated. Everybody stares.


James B. Nicola’s poetry and prose have appeared in the Antioch, Southwest, Green Mountains, and Atlanta Reviews; Rattle; Barrow Street; Tar River; and Poetry East, garnering two Willow Review awards, a Dana Literary award, and six Pushcart nominations. 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). His nonfiction book Playing the Audience won a Choice award. A Yale grad, he currently hosts the Hell’s Kitchen International Writers’ Roundtable at Manhattan’s Columbus Library: walk-ins welcome.

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