ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

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


"The Unwritten Word", a poem by Robert Lietz.


                                                                       The Unwritten Word

They’re granting interviews, inviting the ipads
and recorders, pocket notes and ball-pens in
along remodeled aisles, under inscriptions you suspect,
new as you are to Hama or Dara’a.  And —could
you relocate in a jif— see how the tool-wielders continue
as commanded by the Capital, supplying themselves
with the definitions needed and instructions, so much
the moment asks, blood privilege authorizes, raising
hands you could not keep from flesh or from refreshments,
sparklers you’d thought to put to use as self-defense. 
What was it you got good at, if not safe-keeping in Ohio,
not the yard space and bordering woods the turkeys
share, three adults, and six like themselves in miniature,
researching this plenty where doves wink and the jays
consent, if warily, more cautious than need be, as steadier
hands explore designs, looking after pictures.  News
banners, blares, and you, thinking to arrive, to be gone
by noon or sometime close, what are you thinking
to preserve, besides your skills at interviews, the comedians
are doubling down and out, renting by the week in case,
having learned enough to practice in broad gestures, pleased
by the reach, wide as Ohio is, and practical, flush
with travel budgets, with lines of thought begun and lost
in bankrupt agencies, in sweeps of State intelligence. 
And tonight, hand-holding at dusk, you’re grateful for ISOs
and body stabilization, making dusk shots possible,
stories you place against the darkness afterward.  Here
is your future, you suppose, recalling a lost spring
and double-knotted laces, but hardly the last unwritten
word, since you have seen catastrophe, having
adventured into it, whatever the cables, tricksters,
the news-briefs say of it, rattling the dark
in Tripoli, in Damascus, Tel Aviv.



Maybe you just adventure into it, in post-storm
Tijuana or Alliance, back
from the days and nights assigned and reservations,
to find them as they are, sizably
spaced at the State Store’s screened sesame, so that
you have to listen in, compelled
to imagine, to construct for yourself the back-story
behind the rumors and corrections. 
“It wasn’t like that, nah.  He didn’t shoot, he cut the man.” 
Spoken, you guess, in his defense, in condemnation,
explaining the neighbors’ spat, a neighborhood bewitched,
so you followed the best you could, and
carried the wine away, the liquor for the weekend,
the weekend company.  By now, you think,
he could be released to his payback or to Jesus,
the stuff of legend, lore, porch wit,
the laughter brightening tapped boards or enlivening
a card-room, at home in the last unwritten
word, testing an ignorance you’d brought to play
as customer, feeling the tug, the riptide
draw that does not quit, where two large men
weigh in on their allusions, quickening
the heart assigned, tasked to the pull
of stranger yet and unrelated


                                                                          This Has Happened

Construction, maybe, or wrecks un-cleared, emergency,
Route Thirty’s backed up, stopped, another to add
to tales speed-lanes originate, though we have to wait on it,
whether error intersects or dreams you might have
known enough to pass on, travel’s shenanigans, when vagary
confects, metes discipline, savvy and sweat spent setting
another Friday drive in order, and the uniforms, the costumes
a holiday weekend dresses up in, after the lane closers
negotiate the shoulder and trimmed green, before we’re moving
anywhere, and learning what’s to learn in a contrived
vicinity, exploring some lines of thought, stickers and plates
with their own quarrels to reveal, while another State truck,
and the next, run berm as they’re entitled, already informed, and
tasked to bring us into it, assisting our own fantasias
on a crisis.  If impatience substitutes, impatience I think’s a poor
utility to count on, when engines ahead engage, guide cones,
like a sequence of ellipses, define the single lane lanes narrow to,
when there’s this much to know, a solitary undamaged van,
pulled off to the cone-guarded, untended gravel on our right, so
we have to guess, whether the heat or idling, the night
since yesterday on empty, a Samaritan impulse might explain, or,
home to first away, an intersection, where concern’s abrupt,
and a cross-route slopes to local busyness, dropping to fallow
and unkempt green, where a pick-up’s rolled, come upright,
almost below sight’s line, and half, maybe, in some otherwise
complicating story, half of some history, or alone, however
the miscues or too little sleep arranged it, or the last unwritten word,
the asterisked barn dates add or stipulate.  We must be grateful,
yes, for this lane, then two, for the summer-times, winter breaks
explored along the route, for the words we have said
and meant, participant and witness, having partnered this way
across the marveled distances, dismissing perspective’s biases,
our urge to contain the narrative, familiarized and whole,
and what might be certified, reconditioned, passion or delay
or accuracy we had not thought possible, warmed to, or
seemed ourselves antagonistic to its telling, but transformed,
transforming finally, and meaning as much, more,
much more, as distance has, since this has happened
to us, had to, in any one, or in this other
as we’ve told it.


                                                        The Regimen                                                                

To be here, at the fullest part of it, this first
mid-nineties Friday in September, on this late-summer porch
with a craft ale after travel, I think how that traffic
stopped and the news went on and on with its sad tales,
and how the traffic passed, lighter than I’d guessed,
on the way back, by three or a little past, with no rain due
until Sunday late for east Ohio, and high seventies,
tops, light rain for the last official picnics of the season,
the Columbus and D.C. mis-agendas set like riptides
in shark waters.  Here’s where you ought to know a little history,
besides the meanness, yes, and the wistfulness
the factless preach in pulpit cadences, that the cops are out,
in tandem and solo flights, and cops are keeping put,
as elections, budgets presume, imposing a regimen for holidays,
cast large in mean-spirited proportions, as proportions
turn, turn politics, turn policy, with whatever the weekend’s
set in motion spoken for.  But, bet on this, be sure,
Labor will get this right, and see through the steeped leaves,
fears brewed to the next poor syntheses, having had
enough of lunkhead twists on what we called a Constitution,
on the genius inspiring the Founders’ Washington. 
See how the buses shuffle bands and teams toward intrastate
engagements, and, by the time I’m back, she’ll have to ask
what accident, what harvesting, while some of the creepiest
seek sway, usurp the Capital, with their misgoverning
condensed, in pre-packaged aesthetics, to demonize months
tasked toward reconciliation, compromise, until
Obama, done with it, puts the equipment back in order, skills
to the course the course rewards, more sure that the ride’s
well worth its restoration, and the light, passing clean through
a tea-stained and cultivated ignorance, is put to uses after all,
as they gather, since they must, there, along the driest
river on the planet, in the bone dry and sorriest precincts,
to sip their draughts bone dry and chew again
on the Gouda Buddha’s import, on the chalky dregs
and marrowless statistics, bringing
points to bear that we who come to work
need nothing from.



                             An Answer There

There’s light on a square in Tripoli, Hama,
Dara’a, and on the indulgent blood,
like a distraction  contrived to take the mind away,
from the injured say, lives stalled
in this singleness of purpose, or on this pick-up now,
without a chance to share in the holiday excitement,
whether our own, told out, or our remembered own,
a winter when cross-state drizzle threatened snow, and
one January Friday settled in, proof
how some lifetimes might be altered everywhere, lived
in and listening.  Was that the news-novel,
almost complete, or the mission novel, the romance
complete or just about to happen, an assignment
your whim or wish negotiates, so that the characters
assume, refuse, drive as they must, to
find themselves at home by the mid-chapters, unwilling
to enlist, or re-enlisting, contracted to fly
because they’re skilled with pens or cameras, whatever
the enticements then, the philosophies
two studied, however concise, contrite the theorems
they confected, or that weekend when,
whatever its place in friends’ or strangers’ conversations,
in that news-piece un-researched forever,
and what seemed safe-keeping then, like a photograph
you have to kick yourself for, lacking a camera
or lens more suitable, that now you cannot forget
because of it, sensing the answer’s there, in
the intent of that first winter, and sensing, the ways
she did, you’d drive, and be home by dark
where she’d be waiting, so you could pour and sip
and store up days apart together,
resolved as they’d be through winter, and
seasons afterward.


Robert Lietz tells us: "My poems have appeared in more than one hundred journals in the U.S. and Canada, in Sweden and U.K, including Agni Review, Antioch Review, Carolina Quarterly, The Colorado Review, Epoch, The Georgia Review, Mid-American Review, The Missouri Review, The North American Review, The Ontario Review, Poetry, and Shenandoah. Eight collections of poems have been published, including Running in Place (L’Epervier Press,) At Park and East Division ( L’Epervier Press,) The Lindbergh Half-century (L’Epervier Press,) The Inheritance (Sandhills Press,) and Storm Service (Basfal Books). Basfal also published After Business in the West: New and Selected Poems. Besides the print publications poems have appeared in several webzines. A net search for "Robert Lietz poetry" will provide a representative selection. I have also completed several other print and hypertext (hypermedia) collections of poems for publication, including Character in the Works: Twentieth-Century Lives, West of Luna Pier, Spooking in the Ruins, Keepin Touch, and Eating Asiago & Drinking Beer. I spend a good deal of time taking, post-processing, and printing photographs I have been making for the past several years, exploring the relationship between the image-making and the poems I have made and am exploring."

This is Robert Lietz' first appearance in Offcourse.

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