ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by Louis Gallo



What I Know I don't know
What I Know, I don't know
What?  I know I don't know?

So you've had it with minutia,
the loose button, the errant Band-Aid,
because it confuses you
and induces pain and wastes time,
that dwindling cornucopia,
though deep down you know
(and don't know) that a piece of string
dropped on the mown lawn
can trigger your execution
because some eye mistook
it for the pearls of the empress.
Socrates (he's still alive!)
tells us that wisdom is knowing
you don't know nothing
and I could believe that man
in diapers if only  he weren't
so damned old . . . the way
is not the way, never was the way,
never will be the way, so go ahead,
spin in circles on your heels
as you devour that apple
Tantalus can't reach.
There's a wishbone at the bottom
of this bowl of gumbo
but I can't slurp it fast enough
to split the thing in two.
The bowl is always half full.
One lisp, one wayward comma—
and they catch you at the crossroads
to haul you away in a squad car.



Before the integers and the lexicon, before the Colonel regimented moon with sun, before Landlord put that "price on our souls," we took what we could get, any crumb, a sequin, weak links in the fence.  And yet . . . and yet . . . we feasted, yes, on neon wishbones, the soup a flamboyant broth with syrupy cucumbers on the side of that stately terrazzo in Paraguay or maybe the jaunt in ancient Cathay when the peasants danced in the street proclaiming a joyous revolution as mandarins clattered their teeth in displeasure.  You smiled at me with intricate eyes as we sipped aperitifs in hammocks stretched between eucalyptus trees in Sao Tome—the ham operator pounding SOS on his brass mechanical key. Oh, the island birds clamored in frenzy.  We bathed and romped naked in the sulfurous healing springs of West Virginia where Jefferson once sought cure.  The allure of blue mountains charmed us into languid serenity, and we bathed too in each other's bodies, liquid in our passion.  But mostly we flourished in a summum bonum of vacuum that clenched us softly in hyena jaws.  We could not tell day from night, darkness from light, wrong from right, the purpose of the laws.  Being and Nothingness, yin/yang, one/zero, up/down—all the glorious antipodes awash in a swirl of splendor.  These too evoke delight, ah, the good life everywhere and you with me in time, dolce, dolce, a mist of confectioner's sugar sweetening the salty, acrid brine.




Humpty Dumpty sat on no wall.
There was no wall.  Wall is a noun.
Therefore, no fall.  Fall is a verb.
Humpty was no egg at all.
Egg is the name we give to shells
with yolks inside.  Scratch egg.
There was no Humpty.
Humpty is nomenclature.
Forget the king's horses and men—
for obvious reasons.
Where do we go from here?
The previous was an interrogative.
Questions composed of language
have no relevance.
Nowhere now to go, though
nowhere is a suspicious category.



Sometimes it plunges home the point
as in "I almost wasn't here no more"
with an urgency that meek, powdery "any"
misses altogether.  Or my old friend
collapsed, pounding on the ground,
crying "I ain't got no love."  This too
is poetry, the barbaric yawp, purer
than any tepid tally ho or good show. . .
the rusted anvil poking out of a peat bog
alongside blackened, ossified corpses
that we must think remember at least
a rainbow or butterfly or will-o'-the-wisp,
anything airy, diaphanous, ephemeral
to defy the stolid cinder block
of no.



Say you're remembering her
at a specific time and place years later,
maybe the tryst in old Jamestown ruins
or that rose quartz beach in Destin,
and she's remembering you
at that exact time and place—
that is, you're both remembering
each other then but are now in
distance locations and of course
many years have transpired.
Say further your memories are exact—
you remember what she remembers
precisely as it occurred.
Are memories shared in some
transcendent Platonic vault
outside time and space
(a place perfumed with the attar
of pleasure and desire fulfilled)
or do the memories reside locally
in each of your separate psyches?
I would like to think that we tap
into that eternal treasure house
(which, alas, also preserves pain
in a separate block of resin),
that what she experienced then
and there and what you experienced
then and there . . . ah, that consummation
in the ruins, that kiss on the sand—
persevere beyond the flimsy self,
await reenactment, thrill themselves
without us in a rhapsody of joy.
But I know enough about the mechanics
of mind, the ephemeral hijinks  of time,
the relativity of space, to understand
that once is once and only once,
that the you and the she back then
have evolved beyond yourselves
and the mirror shatters because
it cannot bear such disfigurement.
And I know that the pasture
of memory is a false thicket
and will not endure or will transmute
into the way you tell the story.


Louis Gallo's work has appeared or will shortly appear in Southern Literary Review, Fiction Fix, Glimmer Train, Hollins Critic,, Rattle, Southern Quarterly, Litro, New Orleans Review, Xavier Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Missouri Review, Mississippi Review, Texas Review, Baltimore Review, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, The Ledge, storySouth,  Houston Literary Review, Tampa Review, Raving Dove, The Journal (Ohio), Greensboro Review,and many others.  Chapbooks include The Truth Change, The Abomination of Fascination, Status Updates and The Ten Most Important Questions. He is the founding editor of the now defunct journals, The Barataria Review and Books:  A New Orleans Review.  He teaches at Radford University in Radford, Virginia.
His work has appeared several times in Offcourse.

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