Offcourse Literary Journal
ISSN 1556-4975 

Poems by Oliver Rice.





Pajamaed and primordial in his playpen,
he chances upon everything —
his burbling,
his rudiments of calisthenics,
the wavering light,
clickings, tickings,
the odor of my presence —

grows cognitive by the moment.

I congratulate him on his handsome head
and fat hands.
On his origins,
his sleek and knowing parents,
his modish home.

Welcome, I say, to the perilous human situation.
That is the outside,
your culture,
the arena of your fortune,
prepared for the arrival of your tender self.

He is still, gazing, as into a solitude.

And rightly so, I assure him.
It is an inwardness,
the vicinity of the ego and the soul,
that most justifies the human,

that resists the carnal muddle,
that appraises the myths,
the absurdities,

that determines to get right what matters most.

He sleeps.

I bear him with godfatherly intent to his crib,
relinquishing him to the workings of the night.





1. The alphabet

This is his school in Mainz,
where he learns to read and write Latin,
to parse his local dialect,
to cipher in the Arabic manner
and endure the Carmelite masters,

where perhaps he listens on a long afternoon
to the pulsing of his vitals,

to lore of the waiting neighborhoods,
nuances of the doorways, the clouds,

of his mother’s sigh,
himself bearing his shadow everywhere.

2. The punch, the die, the mold

These are the alleys, the wharves, the marketplace
where the roaming youth encounters enterprise
among the guilds of prideful craftsmen,
particularly the coin-makers at the Mint,
where his father and uncle are honorary overseers,

where it may be that rumors come in on the wind
of the shapes and tones of things,

that dark fables stir in his reveries
of the right to enter anywhere,

of things unseen that nonetheless exist,
of games on precarious fields.

3. The impasse

These are the familial rooms where, at twenty-five,
with an upper-class education and aspiration,
he confronts his disheartening prospects,
the city in political turmoil, fearful of the plague,
his mother’s lowly origins denying him royal favor,

whose expectations surely wake in the night
to entreaties of his hormones,

to intuitions of bright sun on his gardens,
of vital excursions over the mountains,

of the present vanishing into autumn, into spring,
his worth eking itself away.

4. The opportunity

Here is the profusion of pigs and carriages,
drainage ditches and sandstone spires
through which he passes in an urgent fantasy
of certain implements and skills in familiar use
that in some as yet ambiguous way are his calling,

who just might, randomly, fleetingly,
there in the bewilderment of the day,

in the silence between the words,
receive intimations of his undermind, his intent,

there, where the swallows whirl against the sky,
where the troubles come from.

5. The form, the press, the paper, the ink

This is Strasbourg, two days up the Rhine,
where he retreats, and where for ten years
he schemes and borrows and contrives
to sustain a workshop in which, day by day,
he invents printing with movable type,

where work, no doubt, instructs him in its graces,
in its dailiness, its perversities,

in the profit of long staring,
of hindrance and accident,

where he finds himself at risk like a man,
alone in the human condition.

6. The consummation

Now he is back at his old home in Mainz,
in his fifties, harried by debt and lesser work,
who, nonetheless, acquires a verified text,
formatting plans, sufficient paper and type
to produce some hundred and eighty Bibles,

of which he well may say they are what they are,
knowing, as others will, that they are genuine,

are blemished, are prodigious, are compromised
by faltering ingenuity and courage,

have left irremediable gaps in his life
and a passion to begin anew.

7. The eventuality

These are the hearing rooms and imperilled streets
where, almost immediately upon his apparent victory,
his principal creditor seizes his publishing assets,
where he is caught up in ecclesiastical hostilities,
is divested of his house and banned from the city,

who, neither disputing justice nor soliciting mercy,
conceivably announces to his stack of belongings,

to his viscera, his solitude,
that there are yet right choices to be made,

yet alternatives for the human effort,
yet answers to the stars and the inimical signs.

8. The resolution

This is the hamlet Eltville, where he repairs
to live among relatives and work modestly
at the trade which now spreads across Europe,
vastly enabling the Reformation and the Renaissance,
sustained at last by a pension from the archbishop,

who almost certainly knows an old man’s fears,
an exile farther than any province,

reflects with his father’s memory on the apple crop,
the feather of a crane floating on a puddle,

discarded moments, obscure commotions,
the otherness of the women.



Oliver Rice has received the Theodore Roethke Prize and thrice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. His poems have appeared widely in journals and anthologies in the U.S., as well as in Canada, Argentina, England, Austria, Turkey and India. His book of poems, "On Consenting To Be A Man", is offered by Cyberwit, a diversified publishing house in the cultural capital Allahabad, India, and is available on Amazon.

His poems have appeared in Offcourse #37, Three New Poems , #36, Of Frank Lloyd Wright and #34, Four Poems.


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