ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by J. R. Solonche


I hear it every day these days,
the sound of my neighbor's chainsaw

cutting up the dead trees
behind his house to burn through the winter.

It is the sound of a starving animal gorging on its kill.
I can see the white smoke

like the ghosts of the trees swarming from the chimney,
coming up for air.

When I go outside with the trash or to fill the bird feeder with seed,
I can smell the smoke.

It fills my lungs.
I choke on it.

I know full well that these are trees burning, just trees.
Nevertheless, I look away.



Where the road uncurves between
the two cornfields a straight and level
three quarters of a mile, I let go
of the wheel to open the window,
to tap the rhythm out on my lap
with my palms. I want the world
to hear this harpsichord shout over
the trees beyond the fields. I want
the world to hear these violins string
psalms down the power lines.
I want the world to hear these flutes
like silver-throated birds returning
from the south. Will anything ever
make more sense than this? Nothing
will ever make more sense than this.
Nothing from my mouth or from
anyone else's will ever make more
sense than this. I pass a father teaching
his son to ride his new bicycle. He is
teaching him to keep his balance on
the narrow wheels, his hands on the bars
tight, going fast downhill, the father
alongside. Something else has to happen,
I think. Something else, now or very soon,
has to happen, I think, or a hundred
mornings will fall off my life to balance
this morning of Bach and of glory.



The eyes are more than eyes.
The smile is less than a smile.
The forehead is high and the hair wispy thin.

The mouth has the shape of cruelty
but is not cruel really since it lacks guile.
The lips have kissed too much perhaps.

On his mind is a glass of port wine,
an unpaid bill, art, and the stars
like salt on the black wound of his heart



The girl who answered the phone
at the plumbing contractor said
I sounded like a happy person, and she
liked that. "Well," I said. "I'm happy
that you think I sound like a happy
person and are happy about it. But
I have to tell you something. I'm not
a happy person." "Really?" she said.
"How come?" "I'm a poet. Poets
aren't happy people," I said. "I don't
know any poets, so I couldn't say one
way or another. But you do sound happy.
You really do." She laughed. "You sound
like a happy poet." "That's an oxymoron,"
I said. "What's an ox-ee-mor-on?" She
stopped laughing. "An oxymoron is
a phrase with an adjective and a noun
that don't agree. They contradict one
another," I said. "Jumbo shrimp is a
good example." "Or a sad clown? Is that
an oxymoron?" "Yes," I said. "That's
a really good one." "Well," she said.
"I still think you sound like a happy
person, or poet or whatever you are.
And I still like it." "Me, too," I said.
Then I made the appointment for the
plumber just like any happy person would.

J.R. Solonche is the author of 16 books of poetry and coauthor of another. He lives in the Hudson Valley.

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