ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Prose Poems by Ian C. Smith



Tread softly up stained stairs, sweep dust from cupboards with your hand, kill insects, merciless, learn to light the gas, place a chair so while eating you read, lost in imagery, wearing your jacket, zip broken, as cold creeps in.  Know ghost-haunted night passes.  In the pale lemon-grey morning locate a laundry, buy bread and newspapers, tobacco and tea, as though nothing has changed, stoic, wary of the future, given youth's shrapnel, blood pooled on cell floors, a chaos of suffering.
Memorise murmurings percolating through walls, Satie's ethereality, a woman cooing to her cat heard as a thin wail of grief.  On your first night exploring, map the neighbourhood, loping in shadow past ancient smells inhabiting alleyways and entranceways.  Retrace footsteps, read until sleep overcomes you in your makeshift bed.  Awaken to burgeoning light, the hope that won't be kept out, start a routine by going off to your new casual job where you are unknown, shuffling pigeons nodding knowingly from eaves.  No-one, betrayers, liars, has the address of these bricks blackened by exhaust fumes, few have your number.  You cannot be found, but can be heard.
Attract no attention.  Each payday purchase necessary items, cheap bed sheets stiff as thin canvas, a pillow, towel, scissors to cut your hair.  Patterned behaviour brings familiarity until, at last, you home in on what brought you here, the same need as those Paleolithic people squeezing deep into the Lascaux caves.  Soft rain cloaks the city.  Push plates aside, crack open the oilcloth-bound journal you bought, twirl a pen, enclaved with imagination.  Plenitude.  Nothing disturbs you now unpicking layers of dormant myth, utilising hurt, heart-shored, probing uncertainties, mysteries, doubts. 


Grub Street

It was the time he started losing jobs, sacked for taking days off, once for sarcasm.  He would find other doomed low-paid jobs, this work tedious, the only good thing the knock-off whistle, a freight train's ghostly moan bisecting the night heading for distant places.  He would return to his exercise books, adopt a dreamy expression as the tiny windows fogged, their caravan's glow in the dark a cocoon.
They fell behind with rent.  She called him weird, always writing things down, unnatural.  Your lips move, she said.  He told her to be quiet, said he corrected mistakes, re-writing, as intent in purpose as a sleepwalker.  She thought it ridiculous taking such great care with tatty books, cramming them, armfuls of paperwork, into her dad's car when they moved in, so few other belongings pitiful in their claustrophobic shelter behind a house in that street with its décor of stained brick chimneys.  He even kept old newspapers.  And biros.  Always damned biros.
Into a new century, loss morphed into mirage, she recalls collected papers hogging space, cramped days, says becoming a writer was unsurprising for someone so strange, unconnected to reality.  What other work could he do?  When she heard bookish types had praised his account of a gothic past, she read, searching for the way they were, glimpsed lonely characters in wan light waiting off-stage in these other, slanted, ways of living he framed.  Scornful of readers' gullibility she chooses to remember him as he was when they met, vulnerable, regrets burning all that rubbish like a pagan rite.
To catch anything forgotten he imagines sitting inside their caravan again, towards late evening, listening to creaking caused by wind as the main action outside faded, thinking of exercise books, the yearning in underlined words, and while he thought about long-ago seasons he might shiver, smell a musty odour from the past, hear beyond the sound of his ragged breath young voices crying out, their hollow echoes dying as darkness fell.  

 Ian C Smith's work has appeared in Amsterdam Quarterly, Antipodes, cordite, Poetry New Zealand, Poetry Salzburg Review, Southerly, & Two-Thirds North.  His seventh book is wonder sadness madness joy, Ginninderra (Port Adelaide).  He writes in the Gippsland Lakes area of Victoria, and on Flinders Island, Tasmania.


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