ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


"You could build a house of ice with such ideas" by Rich Ives


You can only see Värmland when the lights are out. I’ve stopped the bleeding of the horizon this uncomfortable evening, and chased the culprit into the ocean. I suspect he’ll be back. The crime is not a simple one. It will not go away when sleep finally ferries the victim, who I prefer not to think of as myself, across the darkness this life advertises so generously. The crime is perpetual.

Why do I continue speaking to you when you’re gone, with all evidence of the crime? My own guilt has settled into a reason beyond me, one that does not appear as an excuse, one that does not concern me more than it concerns others.

There is only one surface, but it refuses to hold still and moves from one disturbance to another, softening edges and laying gentle patchwork upon the disturbance’s devious children.

Someone’s brushing at the door now. Perhaps the weather sent the sea wind to dust the porch and clutter the yard with keepsakes. Why do we think weather doesn’t understand us when it offers so many reminders of what we’ve been missing? I’ll have to do something now with the pieces that have changed places. So many of them. So many smaller than I had been thinking about. I wasn’t even noticing.

Bright northern church bells ring with each whisper from the thawed graveyard, but no one knows where the graveyard is or what the whispers sound like. Some of them welcome tears and some of them giggle like a fountain.

You look radiant tonight. The corpse must be further inside.

But it’s all right to wear hollow ideas if you don’t try to sell them pretending they are full. You might find something to put inside them. It could change everything they think about. They might even escape you and give themselves away. Others might find you refreshingly barren and offer you some new mistakes. They too could be filled with unexpected substance until they grow solid enough to correct themselves when you point out what they have done wrong and admit they did it for you. You could build a house with such ideas. You could travel the world with them, leave them in exotic places and bring back others to take their place.

The startled burst of a hefty flushed bird before your footfall. Lift him, lift him, air, before he sees behind him in the failing light not a danger but a human silence come to offer him a man who would study his movements, his fears, his impulsive gestures with impulsive gestures of his own. Let him not alter your imagination of the danger, which this time was excessive but yet may save him.

The endless forest allows you to carry as much grief as you want to, but it keeps reminding you of how much the burden alters your progress. You might take a different direction or become preoccupied and get lost. When you find you carry nothing you can eat, you might decide to leave the burden beside a tree, where it can settle into the earth without trying to ignore anyone. You could probably find it there later if you even wanted to. It’s not going to lie to you, but neither will it hold still. It has a long ways to travel right there in the same spot, just as you would, if you waited.

You might be given some awards for your accomplishments, but it’s hard to tell which ones have been selected. It’s hard to know what to accept and what to give to another contestant, who might in any case be hiding in the shrubbery. It can be harder to give something away than to embrace it.

The morning awakens childlike, transparent. It suggests more than it has any reason to reveal. The night’s fluid trophies have already been dragged out and displayed as the blossoms open upon the surfaces of experience, and they wait, like dew, to be taken in and experienced again in the light, each life containing a different progressive lesson.

What am I doing in Värmland, where so many invasions have been launched and driven back, right into the soil? I try to fit myself into the disguised celebration, but it’s as fickle as an Icelandic summer, and the conductor has already unleashed in the distance the huge suggestive cymbals. Waves of ancient northern relic melt are approaching. You can sigh with relief now. They’re quite damp and sprawling and still waking, but soon they will want to cast about with their white fur and their cool intentions and gather enough of nearly everything to last another epoch.


Rich Ives is a winner of the Francis Locke Memorial Poetry Award from Bitter Oleander and the 2012 winner of the Creative Nonfiction Prize from Thin Air magazine. His books include Tunneling to the Moon, a book of days with a prose work for each day of the year (Silenced Press), Sharpen, a fiction chapbook, (Newer York Press), Light from a Small Brown Bird, a book of poems, (Bitter Oleander Press), and a story collection, The Balloon Containing the Water Containing the Narrative Begins Leaking (What Books).
See more of his work in Offcourse #64,

Return to Offcourse Index.