ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by Richard Merelman


Four-Poster Bed

It's a steal for middle-aged newlyweds
            like Linda and me. In '08,
when the market sank, my first marriage

crashed, burned. Linda's ex dumped her
            and joined an ashram.
Today she and I explore the Do-Over Mart,

where this Victorian glows in the showroom.
            Veneered finials,
but a solid hickory frame. I tap the wood

so she can hear the thunk. She nods, frowns.
            On the headboard
carved cupids frolic. Fresh paint should brighten

their wings. I tickle a cupid. Linda struggles
            to smile. What's the trouble?
I poke slats; no slippage. Plus the mattress

doesn't sag. Just enough give. She hesitates,
            stoops, discovers dents
at the foot of the bed. Her face is a map

I cannot read. She traces a jagged crack
            patched with black pitch.
Easily fixed, I think, though I'm no carpenter.

She squats, peers beneath the bed, inhales,
            exhales, sneezes twice.
Yes, there is mildew. No trace of mold.

She tosses her loaded tote bag onto the bed.
            A side rail squeaks.
Oil would silence the sound. We'd sleep like kids.

Linda murmurs the bed is in need of work.
            She calls it a big risk.
I say the bed deserves a second chance.


Because The Light Is Fine

The wind-chill plunges to -30 degrees Fahrenheit.
            In the kitchen she and I wear extra sweaters.
                        The streets are blocks of ice, frigid as our voices

during last night's quarrel about my relatives. Sunbeams
            bound off the dawn's feathery snow. Nooks of our house
                        seem in motion. Our tall white walls glow, sway, dance.

Thanks to frozen pipes, we wash and dry
            a week's worth of dishes by hand. Heated water
                        warms me. I make a lame joke about polar bears

licking their claws. Not funny, she says. I scrub our sponge
            over a fistful of pitted flatware purchased at a yard sale.
                        She dabs the dented forks, lays them on a paper towel.
In the light they spring to life. So do the knives
            which resemble a fleet of miniature silver longboats.
                        She rotates a serving spoon, says she's never noticed

how the fluted handle alternates shadow, brilliance,
            riotous colors. Maybe we miss the nuances, I respond,
                        thinking the Maytag leaves soup stains, dulls the finish.

She pauses, nods, smiles. Elbow grease, I mumble,
            from some recess in my mind. Upside-down,
                        our faces shine in the spoon's broad oval bowl.

She says I look quite handsome, standing on my head;
            I praise her slender neck as it climbs from her chin.
                        We dare to kiss, our tongues adrift until they mingle.



I pause for lunch after a real estate closing
and notice the Special: a Double Steak-and-Cheese Whopper.
Sounds great. I order the Special, grab a table.
The food arrives. I gulp it down in chunks,
having forgotten food this fatty enrages my gastric juices.
My stomach becomes a tympani gremlins pound for fun.
By the time I get home, pain turns to nausea,
nausea to…well, you can imagine.
From the bathroom, I crawl

past a book case that once held the classics
of Labor Zionism. Years ago, starved
for a nourishing diet of Jewish identity,
I swallowed Joseph Trumpeldor's utopian vision:
an Israel of citizen-soldiers, farmers, scholars,
tailors, bakers…equals all. In a Negev kibbutz I gorged
on song, dance, shared work, friendship.
Communal meals lent sweet spice to small talk. Pastry fresh
from the oven tinged ordinary encounters
with honey and cinnamon. Romance ripened
like the mandarin oranges, apricots, pomegranates.

Soon, egos bloated. Debate soured. 
Constant kvetching—about rules, childcare,
property, the Arabs—seared my abdomen.
Ulcers blossomed, bled. Acid rotted my gut.
I fled to Beersheba, never went back.
Doctors declared my colon delicate, tortuous.
I mastered Hebrew, the hora, how to strip
and load a Uzi. None of this lasted.
Indigestion persists; the Special is evidence.
Bile I consider a remnant. It rises now.


Richard Merelman is Professor (Emeritus) of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. His first volume of poems,The Imaginary Baritone (Fireweed Press), appeared in 2012.  His The Unnamed Continent, a chapbook, appeared from Finishing Line Press in 2016. In 2017, his Sensorium—a chapbook of twenty poems about the senses—appeared from Bent Paddle Press. He has published poems in a number of journals, including Lake Effect and Main Street Rag. Forthcoming is "At Sixteen" from Main Street Rag, and two poems in descant. He and his wife, Sally Hutchison, live in Madison, Wisconsin

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