ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Three Poems by Robert Joe Stout


"The unpardonable is that the interminable disputes…played such an important part…"
                                                               —Enrique Semo
                                                               The Search

He sighs and orders coffee,
smiles and tells me,
"Five-hundred maybe, that is all."
I nod, glance past him
out the window towards the dome
of the cathedral
glistening in the sunlight,

absorb what he is thinking:
Last year five-hundred thousand
marching, chanting, waving banners...

and remember his excited
"More than a march,
a celebration!"  Teachers, workers,
campesinos, students, housewives,
all of us together, working and believing.

"Remember the first meetings?"
he folds a napkin into spear point
then discards it,

"Everybody restless, shouting,
'Yes, a declaration!'
Word by word we forged it,

'Ironclad,' we said it was."
"And then?" I ask. "Then," he repeats,
"Rueda and his teachers
demand changes. We meet again,
we vote again,
and almost come to blows.
Rueda and his teachers leave.
Again we meet,
decide to occupy the Zócalo…"

He gnaws his lip, silent
as the waitress places coffee,
spoon and sugar on the polished
wooden surface, "Arguments!"
he curses, "the student coalition…"
"Separated," I say for him.

"Worse than that!" he bangs the table,
spilling coffee, "'No!' they shouted,
'We don't want Foundation money!'
'Yes!' insisted others
so we meet, we vote,
we set new budgets…"

"The Leninists walk out?"
"Run out!" Again he bangs the table,
"Yap to everyone we're cowards,
hold their own loud demonstrations:
'Get them back,' some say;
'No! Let them go!' say others…"

Again he lifts his fist then, sighing,
takes his coffee cup instead.
"So we meet," he mumbles, "vote
and argue the results. Decide, at last,
on one more march…" Five hundred,
that is all.


Ama de Casa

She squeezed
chopped onions,
she'd bought
at the marketplace

         little fishy

little girl song
in a squeaky
and cabbage
and onions

                  add oil
                  and sugar
                  and tears

her daughter a terror

her son leaving home

guests coming

to eat
to drink
to chat


her ceviche and salad
her permanent smile
her completely


A Telecast Reminds Me of Austin

Faces intercept my rush to clutch
the memories: Storms (instead of sunshine)
push me back. Marian came to baby sit
(her name evokes a later crash—hospitals,

drugs, a thwarted rape, her blackness
sticking to my stance like old adhesive
tape.) Where is she now? Where is her son?
(I picture the East 10th Street slum, clogged

plumbing, whiskey spills, his frightened scowl,
and hear a cry—not hers, but mine, ranting
at white bureaucrats: Turn her utilities back on!)
Through gauze I sense him dealing crack—but maybe not,

the church was there: Rich voices sang hosannas
to a distant Christ. (My kids and I standing
outside, a stroller stacked with folded clothes
—Sunday comics and the laundromat). So many

dreams--dreams that have changed. I wrench
against the need to keep them pure, intact.
The kids have grown: so have the memories.
She starts to speak: The poem answers back.

Robert Joe Stout is a journalist living in Oaxaca, Mexico, who has contributed nonfiction, fiction and poetry to a wide variety of publications. Much of his writing is focused on social and political themes involving people and events, present and past, that affect the United States and the country in which he resides.

Return to Offcourse Index.