Viper Brain / John L. Stanizzi


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Viper Brain

poems by

John L. Stanizzi

ISBN: 978-1-59948-984-1
119 pages, $17 (+ shipping)

Release Date: November 21, 2023

The Advance Sale Discount price on this title has expired. For those who prefer to pay by check, the price is $21/book (which includes shipping & sales tax) and should be sent to: Main Street Rag, 4416 Shea Lane, Charlotte, NC 28227. 


John L. Stanizzi has published twelve collections of poems. His poetry has appeared in American Life in Poetry, New York Quarterly, Cortland Review, and his nonfiction is in Literature and Belief, Stone Coast Review, Ovunque Siamo, Potato Soup, and others. A Wesleyan University Etherington Scholar, Professor of English, Manchester Community College, CT, he also taught for 24 years at Bacon Academy. John curated Hill-Stead Museum’s “Fresh Voices” competition and worked with “Poetry Out Loud.” He was New England Poet of the year, and in 2021, received a Creative Writing-Non-Fiction grant from the State of Connecticut Commission on Arts and Culture.

Viper Brain is a breathtaking must-read that strikes the reader with vivid imagery, bites us with precise, masterful language, and holds us with its introspective tone long after we finish the last poem. John Stanizzi inspires us to listen for the sympathetic whisper of rain in the trees, and the sparkling sigh of joy on the landscape amidst the silence of loss in this stunning collection that captures the beauty and complexity of life. ~Victoria Nordlund




To one who has Faith, no explanation is necessary.
To one without Faith, no explanation is possible.

~Thomas Aquinas


Why is it that You
have limited our relationship
to one of invisibility,
You always hiding in the sky, always,
and me down here
stumbling around senselessly?

I recall as a child
questioning Your whereabouts
as I pointed straight up
with a chubby finger
at a sky so vast
it was as endless as the nothingness
my scarce incomplete mind
could fathom.

Yet, it’s not really nothing, is it,
with its huge, cosmic junkyard,
its orbital speedway,
its turbulent light and lack of light.

That’s a problem with
learning to comprehend-
we create our own notions
of what is and is not
and those become our legitimacies,
the certainties by which
we live and judge—
our understanding
becomes our history and our guide
and it’s very possible it’s all wrong.

I know I’ve pointed at the sky
hundreds of times
trying to make a little contact,
and always failed.

Here’s another mystery-
…a child is met by a disappearing act and silence
and still He mystifies the child into imagining
the possibility of His presence-

the only thing necessary
to get the kid worked up

is for the boy to ask Him
to allow his indiscretions to slide
just this once…
…and viola! everything is cool…
…until the next time
the boy fucks things up
of course.

I often think deeply about these things,
slashed by anxiety,
occasionally glancing up
into the problematic firmament,
hopeful – always hopeful…

…more or less





Six a.m. –
the first sounds
above the encroaching despair
are gulls screeching into the dawn,
and the easy roll and swirl
of the bay against the rocks.

An egret
stands in flat water
inches away from
an oval of pure-white sunlight
too bright to look at.
A half-sunken cormorant cruises by,
unfettered by human sounds –
-the train’s clattering approach
air conditioners
some industrial hum on the horizon
whine of fishing boats, three of them
single file
headed for the thick mist beyond the rock
where the seabirds
laugh themselves silly.

In the cottage
the clock has been stopped at 3:45
for four summers,
the closest we will ever come
to putting all of this on hold.





Don’t listen or watch—
don’t do anything
except drown in the crescendo
of voices dripping up through
the freaky June humidity
come way too early to be taken seriously
until it brings you to your knees

This is what I try to tell myself
listening            watching

I have waited restlessly
on shabby rotted porches
where moonlight lay in shards
on the leaves of black plants
and I’ve waited in white rooms
where the walls were slick
with the sweat
of another season’s rude arrival
after its bittersweet departure
as if no one had ever been there

And lately on a hilltop over a valley
into which I’ve reached
far too often
for the impossible idea of forbearance,
a murmuration of starlings
and an equanimity that does not belong to me
therefore, when I speak it is to say
I have forgotten what it was I came here for





It’s 2.15 a.m. —closing time.
No one in the joint but us.

Wendy has put her clothes back on
and is seated at the far end of the bar
counting her singles
and eating a burger.

I’m on the pinball machine
next to the wooden 12 X 12 stage,
eighteen inches high,
with one shiny steel pole in the middle.

Marky is wailing along
to Hot Blooded as he watches me play.

Doc, the owner of the joint,
The Venus Lounge
is tossing stools up onto the bar.

Phil and Billy are waiting by the door.
Billy is buttoning up his pea coat.
Phil is taking a long pull
off the pint of Black Velvet
he keeps in his inside pocket.

Golden, the bouncer, implores us,
Alla yous gotta get the fuck outta here.
C’mon, man. Closing time!

Tommy bounces out of the men’s room
zipping up his fly.
What’s goin’ on, men?

You’re leaving, shouts Golden,
as my father raises both arms above his head,
six bottles of beer, 3 between the fingers
on each of his meaty hands,
and announces,
Nobody’s leaving, Golden Boy,
Nobody’s leaving ‘til we finish
these fucking beers,

and Golden shakes his head,
smiles at my old man,
and takes a seat on his stool by the door.

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