ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by Josep Miquel Sobrer.


Five Myth-inspired Pieces.



Each week he fills that plastic
dull-yellow pillbox
with painted initials for each day
and tiny Braille bumps on each compartment.
He fills it duly with his prescriptions
and then, as he swallows his daily dose,
begins to see his days slip away
only to have to fill the pillbox again next week.
Unable to remember if he took his pills this morning,
the lettered box props his memory.
But his memory will slide, like a rock,
down the hill,
with the boastful indifference
of gravity.





This morning I found my clematis broken close to the root,
ruined. It’s a warm April.
I had waited for two years to see the vine
curl up the trellis and begin to show flower buds.
I’d been looking forward to its dark purple blossoms,
to its frail, long-necked beauty,
to its poise and defiance, to its tendrils
supporting its climb, to its burst of purple blooms.
All I have now are two runty leaves
close to the ground, and the hope that
in a year or two I might again expect
the dusky flowers.
I had never felt so bad for a plant’s demise.
My clematis was a desirable nymph
too tender for this world, needy,
consumptive, her beauty dependent
On a few twists of tendril
and the water and sunshine that now seem wasted.
An Apollo of this Daphne I wept tears as useless as my lust.




Two mourning doves alighted on my porch just now.
Soft grays, white bellies, jet eyes.
They coo and preen each other, happy mourners.
I am told the birds are sacred to Aphrodite.
And I am sure they came to remind me
That I have no idea
How birds




Penelope on the farm

She sits at the large table in her sunroom.
Before her, scattered, flat, and defying, lie
the willfully misshapen pieces of her jigsaw puzzle.
She will weave her stiff tapestry
however long it takes, however laborious
the taming of each little sphinx is,
—which by itself makes no sense,
holds no meaning, gives no clue
except for its edges, shaped like cartoon bones
to be tossed to the dogs of perseverance.
Eventually a fringe appears, the roof of a house,
a puff of a cloud: sense inching to completion,
each tile of nonsense to be integrated
into the landscape of meaning,
the placid idyll once broken
into the thousand odd parts
and now reborn by her hands, her eyes,
the memory.

My life too has been made up like the jigsaw.
My crooked, incomplete data giving me the hope of sense.
Any day now, any day,
This tapestry of truth will come out.
But she at the table knows
the one thing we can do with truth:
Break it apart again, scatter it senseless, sigh,
And start over.





Echo’s Love


I look in the mirror each morning, check
my wrinkles. I lather up for a shave
and see how yellowed my teeth are.
The mirror tells me that every cell of my body has changed
since my birth, but my brain’s, my illusion of self. This I,
I can’t escape, this I, I insist in recognizing
in my balding head, in the wattles
under my chin. This I, always there, luring
me into the illusion of permanence, this I
that does not let me let go.

I’d like at least my words to escape this I
and fly, break open the cocoon
of tightness, this drag of my self. I write poems,
chains of words that fall into flat,
broken prose. I’d like to sing of the genital
quick of the earth, of vatic lines, of the clink
of dirty gold, or, dammit, of the body electric.
But I can’t. No magic words come to me, no bursts
of sentiment, no twists of phrase. This I who holds me
hostage drags me ever away from mystery,
from music, from the sway
of beastly love.



My memory, this bastard


Always never now, in whatever order.
I cannot be twenty-two again, not now, not never, not always.
All I have is the choking of shame in my mouth, a fabrication in my head.
I see her legs from behind. She does not know I am looking at them.
Her heels, the lines of her calves, backs of knees, perfectly delineated
against the drabness that is the whole world, the gray of life and time.
She is the object of my unmitigated desire, not obscure,
but light with the inevitability of joy, with the necessity of oblivion
--I mean I’d be better off not remembering any of this.
The boy and girl we were, gone forever, I try to ressuscitate
the taste of love. Was it love? I couldn’t stop to tell, I wanted too much.
Lynn, you were everything and my desiring denied everything else.
No sense in evoking those moments: my skin is someone else’s now
and yours will have lost that milky tautness, its impeccable satin. All is lost,
otherwise the memory of Lynn’s legs would not have come to gnaw
on the back of my neck. Heaven was the light of a Spring morning
after sex—hushed, so as not to awaken her child—a chemical suspension
of a precise taste in my throat and a scent in my adulterous fingers,
a delicious sin of laziness and unpossession. Desire always
turns rancid with reason. This will now make no sense,
nor love will make sense, or desire, or always. One thing left now,
desire turned to an absurd wish: a return to that skin,
and later the presence of mind to say goodbye, my alabaster Lynn.
Now, always, never.




He is serious,
But not always. Surly,
But mostly with me.
Healthy, stealthy, good
In school, gifted:
My perfect teenage son.
I wonder whether or when,
Like me,
He’ll make a mess
Of his life: the wrong woman,
Stupid betrayals,
Cowardice spiked with foolhardiness.
Or will he?
Perhaps he’ll go through life
Without any major blunder
And be cheated
Of the emotion that sustains me
Like a backbone.


Josep Miquel Sobrer is a retired professor of Spanish and Catalán at Indiana University. He has written and published poems and essays in his native Catalán to balance his academic publications. Having lived in the U.S.A. since 1967, he dares at last to write in English.

Return to Offcourse Index.