ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Three New Poems by Oliver Rice.


Jung Expeditionary

See the master, charismatic, audacious,
and his two discomposed assistants,
one a querulous  scion of American wealth,
the other his analyst, a protégé of Jung,
leaving Nairobi in nineteen twenty-five,

financed by skeptical philanthropists,
their destination to locate the Elgonyl tribe,
somewhere just over the border of Uganda,
in the foothills of Mount Elgon,

and to penetrate the primordial anima.

Leaving behind guns and ammunition,
tents, utensils, miscellaneous supplies
loaded on a truck to be driven ahead
by the bearers and cook they had engaged,
see them set off in a safari car
for their place of encampment,
with an obsolete map, no native guide,
Jung’s slightest Swahili, boisterous intensity,
and congenital, unrelenting will,

bearing potentialities for impatience,
domestic misery, racist condescension,
paranormal excitation, social deprivation.

See them ineptly pioneering
over the highlands, across the Rift Valley,
out to the fringe of civilization,

actually, nonetheless, arriving
to find their truck and servants awaiting,

as well as the pleasantly competent lady
who had introduced herself in Nairobi
and earnestly volunteered to join them,
who quickly became the quest-saver,
quartermistress, nurse, specialty chef,
counsellor of frayed personalities.

See them setting up, adapting their habits ---
a diorama to the Elgonyians ---

persuading a tribesman with some English
to introduce them into the huts and caves
where the villagers, slight, effectively naked,
lived among their animals and alarming refuse,
protected from predators by thorny hedges.

Imagine their negative expectations aroused
even by their earliest anthropological efforts,
both interpreter and informants bewildered
by their queries and wary of their motives,
preintellectuals, disinclined by endowment
to speculate, formulate, articulate,

and inspired by their witch doctor,
the most powerful person of the tribe,
to a sun worship and a voodoo
which amounted to their psychology,
philosophy, history, sociology.

See the researchers depart after some weeks,

their theories intact,

world fame in the offing,

declaring the experience deeply spiritual,

the natives having secretly dubbed them
with archetypal labels of their own.



Karbacher Motors into Summers of Old.

Windows open for odors
of salt marshes, huckleberries in the woods,
sea lavender on the dunes,


alights, unobserved,
oblivious to human otherness,
receiving primal instruction from his viscera,
the hurricanes’ wrack, a blue heron aloft,
an oysterman’s tombstone,


the path into the scrub pines now overgrown,
swans gone from the pond,
outer beach losing headland ---
these grounds contested
year after year by happenstance
and the offenses of unwelcome tenants,


himself, since, trekking east and west,
discovering several useful personas,
and a tenuous concept of what occurs out there
and why and how to consent to it,


repossessing now the naif who then
sensed perhaps something innate in his rites
predestining recollection, an aspiration
to hallow those mornings, afternoons
when he began to enwisen himself,
studying the gnarled, weathered chokeberry,
the auras of June and August,
forsaken boats on the tidal flats,
the mournful note of the plover.



Omens of Their Daily Return

Because they have lives there where he sees them,
because reality glistens, seeps, disintegrates,
because this day will not come again,

he must keep a log of their ritual utterances.

Because there are truths that can seize a life,
because cycles deliberate in the shadows,

he must compile the small rules of their mornings,
the silences by which they appear to consent.

Because of the wobbly orbit of Earth,

he must mark the rebellions of the selves,
preserve instances of young love, old love,
of rumors that pass among the children.     


To Oliver Rice bio notes 

Return to Offcourse Index.