James Cihlar.jpg

Poetry from James Cihlar

followed by Q&A

Nora Prentiss

Her alabaster cheekbones rise out of the shadows

as if out of well water,


Ann Sheridan’s bedroom eyes slipping 

off the sides of her head,


her shimmering figure moving through dark liqueur,

pulling us into the inky frame,


making the doctor leave his family

as effortlessly as she makes us love her.


Baked cement towers above the black enamel streets,

the Plymouth’s slide is a constellation of white dots


in concert against a midnight backdrop. The city’s

grind and shriek, roil and glow 


surrounds the coolness of clubs, stale hotel rooms,

unlighted hallways and offices,


sparking like a transistor panel. Desperate for weeks.

Be with people. Hear some music.


Open the floral curtains and the dark room dissolves into flames. 

His disfigured face breaks into gray diamonds,


refracted like a kaleidoscope, dazzling as a funhouse mirror, 

the lover in jail, a monster behind a screen.



Vickie Falls

How quickly the chocolate syrup 

and velvety soft serve 

of Dairy Queen’s peanut buster parfait

may turn into molten lava, 

fire, and brimstone of the hell mouth,

when in the course of a busy day,

in a break between appointments,

you trip and hit your head.

Red pylons in the parking lot 

rise up like Satan’s sentinels

when there is so far to fall.

I also live in the Upper World

and know the traps 

that mortal clay can set.

The course of fate may alter 

with one rushed step 

as the twist cone spirals 

into the swirling vortex of death, 

pulling you down from on high. Lovely

the view from up there,

horizon encircling sight’s perimeter, 

the fair and balanced eye

that sounds the hearts of

villagers, implements, and livestock.

Why did heaven blink?


Rushed by strangers to 

the Emergency Room,

you began months of recovery.

So close you came to oblivion,

the lactate buzz of creamery 

blurring into white noise,

white light, I almost cannot stop

at the site of your downfall

and order a brownie sundae

or dilly bar. Cursed be the ground

where Vickie fell, may white paper napkins

dance a hangman’s jig across,

may sugary liquid congeal

into consecutive sixes, 

may nothing grow there.


The body sometimes fails us

as we motor our zeppelin

through waves of phenomena, 

a million synaptic reactions in a step,

with just one malfunction 

enough to bring us to a halt.

The body sometimes saves us, too,

with its built-in ejector seat buttons,

the dime-sized impervious zones

that hold off fate. How great 

the craftsmanship of our design,

how inscrutable the maker, 

terrible in his grace.

Let us tumble to our knees

and bless the day when Vickie fell

and rose again.



James Cihlar is the author of Undoing (Little Pear Press) and Metaphysical Bailout (Pudding House Press), and his poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Mary, Rhino, Painted Bride Quarterly, Quercus, Bloom, Minnesota Monthly, Northeast, The James White Review, Briar Cliff Review, Verse Daily, and Forklift, Ohio. The recipient of a Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship for Poetry and a Glenna Luschei Award from Prairie Schooner, Cihlar is a visiting instructor at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and Macalester College in St. Paul.



Q: Discuss your process as a poet, what sparks a poem and how you work it through to completion (or abandonment.)

A: I’m inspired by old movies. I have always loved watching Hollywood films from the thirties, forties, and fifties. Film noir, screwball comedies, and melodramas—they were my Mother Goose when I was growing up, my Aesop’s Fables, my Grimms’ Fairy Tales. The stars—Bogart, Bacall, Sheridan, Bankhead—seemed so worldly wise, sophisticated, and mature. To watch them now—wigged, made-up—recognizing the cracks in the facades, and to know the demons and diseases they battled in life, only adds to my appreciation. Ann Sheridan in Nora Prentiss was nearing the end of her run as Warner Bros’ “oomph girl,” and she was showing her age. She rebounded in the sixties with a TV show, only to die in her fifties of cancer. In life she always seemed to be in on the joke—an authoritative dame with the inside track on human weakness. What a contrast to the underage, drug-addicted, paparazzi-beleaguered “stars” of today. 

I also like the notion of story—of discrete units of time, middle sandwiched by beginning and end, and I have always loved the format of the ode. “Vickie Falls” is a loving tribute to a dear friend, Vickie Benson, who experienced a fluke accident—tripping over a parking pylon in the lot at Dairy Queen and injuring her head. It could have happened to anyone—I could easily picture it happening to me—but perhaps only Vickie could manage her recovery as well.


Q: What did you collect as a child – rocks, insects, stamps? – and why?

A: I am a born collector, and I first collected coins as a child, but soon branched out to include figurines. My family was Catholic, so that meant statues of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. I loved the coolness of the porcelain, the faintness of the colors, the toothiness of the bisque. Among my many collections as an adult, I have figurines designed by Holly Hobbie, and I’ve published some articles about her work in Antique Trader magazine: http://www.antiquetrader.com/article/popular_holly_hobbie_collectibles_still_available


Q: In honor of “Vickie Falls,” are those jimmies, sprinkles, or ants?

A: My mom used to call me Jimmy Jay, but I’m going with: sprinkles.