ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

A journal for poetry, criticism, reviews, stories and essays published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Two Poems by Wythe Marschall


Minos's Son.


I ran around and around the circuit for fourteen years, eating what they left for me without examination.  I ran until I had grown too large to tread the tightest passages, and then I thought how peculiar the world is, almost as if it were planned for me from the beginning, and I retired to my inner room to await some alteration.


Sure as cold is dark and dark is cold, the builders arrived in white robes and white instruments and mattocks to enlarge the passages and construct for me a drome without limits, a plane of consistency, but it was really too bad, for me and for them, really too bad for us, because I could not wait for their iron-beaked mattocks to finish digging, and I pulled them apart and ate them as I needed until I was very full, and even then I had already pulled apart all of them and could not command them that some remainder should go back to work.  And so I retired again into the dark of my innermost room and fell into a troubled sleep to wait.  Troubled—because some of they who I had pulled apart were starting to stink.


In time, more builders came, but I no longer even looked at them, they had ape-heads and probably fearsome dog-heads, and squid-heads, and probably too the claws of bears and the fingers of purple-venomed snakes.  Don't ask me—as did one of them, an old blind poet who thought I was a prince, merely a prince, and not already a king—how I learned all that I know.  When the old blind poet asked me, I pulled him apart, I pulled his nation apart, or taught it to pull itself apart.  And then I ran the circuit, and then I retired to my inner room to await some alteration.  And then I slept.


Let me describe my drome to you:  It is a torus made of malachite, walled in gabbro, flooded with [indecipherable; whalesong?], ornamented periodically in lapis-lazuli—sconces, vague depressions meant to serve as altars (to me, to someone), the worn lapis-lazuli cabochons the queens of all the extinct cradle-cities kissed upon receipt and kept close to their breasts—bricks of dry moss, gravel of bone, books none can read.  My home is a wheel forever moving through itself and so producing more rooms.  And yet there is one room to which I can always retired.  The hub.  My smells permeate the drome, and all the ape- and dog- and horse-headed builders who enter must smell my smells and know me.  Probably they smell my smells on the outside, whatever it smells like.  Probably there is no outside.  And the torus is everywhere.


There is a legend I have heard murmured among the builders as I rush to pull them apart that one day I will retire and fail to rise again.  I think this is probably true.  In my dreams, which are mute and black and white, I see a builder in my place.  His name is Theseus, and he thinks he comes to free me.  [The urn here bears a blurred saffron portrait of a youthful warrior, perhaps related to the text, perhaps added much later.]  The look on his face is compassionate, and yet he kills me.  But luckily for him someone must run and rush and pull apart the builders who are perhaps, or, no, very likely born into this drome.  I will be happy not to wake, because besides the dream of Theseus my hero, I have no dreams and am not obliged.  Still it may be a long time before the builders discover or produce Theseus.  And so I resume the circuit, though now unable to tread the very tightest passages.



Less Than Dead

There are animals that are not even extinct
because they are not discovered,
and you have to be known to be forgotten.
You have to be loved to be spurned.

There is eocrinoid, of course, the mega-sea urchin
who preserved herself as desert-yellow crystal—
to prove she was real, once, that you could have stepped
on her at the beach—to excuse her final sleep.

There's xiphosurid, the oldest horseshoe crab,
pile of spines, not a daughter of Nature,
but the minor villainy of a cheap movie—
Space Spiders, maybe, or Stab-Devil Larvae 9.

These proto-animals fanged and fucked
and were not forgotten until recently, too ugly
to be Arked.  Only now may they be safely catalogued,
placed on a high, high shelf.

To be less than dead...  If only
you and I, our us-ness, was of this type:
Not yet discovered, waiting in the desert
to be smushed over by a petrol-hunting truck.

If only our evidence was buried
and frangible—and time was measured
in the millions of years, and not the heartbeats
I have sacrificed to you—bunt of romance—

the squawk of feathered dinosaurs
falling out of trees, chasing the land-squid
we have not yet found attested to
by our one percent of one percent

of the visible truth.


Wythe Marschall lives in Brooklyn, New York. He is a graduate of Bennington College and the MFA fiction program at Brooklyn College, where he teaches undergraduate literature. His stories and essays have appeared in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Ninth Letter, Salt Hill, 5_Trope, Knock, The Kennesaw Review, The Brooklyn Review, Locus Novus, and elsewhere. He is the senior editor of the Atlas Obscura ( and an editor of Pomp & Circumstance ( With Ethan Gould, he is the co-author of Suspicious Anatomy. For more, visit Wythe's website:

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