Vox Populi

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Steve Nolan & NJ DeVico: The Orchestration Of War     

Steve Nolan writes:

It’s one of the most common souvenirs of war,

the constant ringing in the ears, or, in my case,

a high-pitched squeal presumably caused

by the Blackhawk turbine it mimics

and the artillery rounds.  It’s never kept me

from sleeping, thank God, but it also never

ceases to amaze how loud it is when I wake.

I go to the bathroom, I go to the kitchen,

when the house is quiet and it dominates

everything, makes me wonder how I sleep

at all with a head stuck on a note so

monotonous, so solitary, that it defies

harmony.  And yet you meet others tuned

to the same pitch and for a short period

of time you can form a duo, a trio, a quartet.

At the Vet Center sometimes you form a chamber

orchestra for an hour or two a week.  It helps

to have a conductor with the same note

stuck in his head but with the ability

to wield a baton  better than a weapon;

the personal weapon – the most likely culprit

for the tinnitus in the first place,

how you brought on the condition with each

pull of the trigger, reminding you till the end

of your days: you were a witness, it’s up to you

whether you testify.


Poem and art from Go Deep. Published by Ragged Sky Press. Copyright 2o18 Steve Nolan and NJ DeVico. Included in Vox Populi by permission of the publisher.


Newly diagnosed with multiple myeloma, Steve Nolan called every person in the country rumored to have the same form of cancer. He was misinformed about NJ DeVico’s leukemia; she had myelodysplastic syndrome. The initial phone call revealed his love of poetry and her love of art. A collaboration—and friendship—was born.


Steve Nolan did his undergraduate work at the University of Miami in English and Psychology and his Masters at Barry University, in clinical social work, also in Miami, Florida. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who spent twenty-five years as a therapist and thirty years in the military, ending his career as the Chief of Combat Stress for Paktika Province in Afghanistan. He ran a PTSD clinic for the VA for five years before moving to Newtown, Pennsylvania, two years ago. His work has been published in: Passages North, U.S. 1 Worksheets, The Florida Review, Woodrider, The Devil’s Millhopper Press, Gypsy (Amnesty International Edition), Schuylkill Valley Journal and others. His poems were featured on Morning Edition, National Public Radio, 24 September, 2007 upon his return from Afghanistan in a story called, “Mother, Son Share War Experiences.”

NJ DeVico always admired the color field painters—Mark Rothko, Richard Diebenkorn, Hans Hofmann—but was afraid if she attempted to paint like them, people might say, “My five year old can do that.” She learned something about color and composition by doing landscapes for years, but after her bone marrow transplant, she figured, what’s a few insults compared to almost dying? At that point, the transition to abstract art was pretty easy. She considers herself  lucky that the artwork titles pop into her head when she’s not even paying attention. And, as one abstract painter put it, “How am I supposed to know what it’s going to look like before I start?” Generally when she sits down to work, she goes into a trance and before she knows it, there’s her picture.


“At Higher Temperatures, Molecules Vibrate Faster, So Sound Waves Travel at Higher Speed” by NJ Devico

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