ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998




At midnight a girl on Grove started shrieking,
up and down the street she shrieked
then a lull for a few hours until, at dawn,
the frantic shrieking began again.
I took it as an omen though none of us
ever saw the shrieker—
disembodied howls of terror permeating
this locale.

The New River flooded during a three-day-long
torrential downpour, so too our basement
(sub-terranean sump pump, blessed be thy motor).
Another omen.  The burning bush shed
its bloody leaves.  I saw Moses and turned gray,
fifty shades of it.  Nero refuses to concede,
fiddling as Rome burns.

Coincidences or synchronicities?
I have never believed in coincidences.
It’s all connected, has been since the beginning
in that primeval singularity—tickle a particle
this side of the universe, its abandoned partner
on the other giggles.  Butterflies
have such effects. 

Holed up for the nine, dire the duration.
Justin joked that it wasn’t a girl shrieking,
it was him, cabin-fevered, spewing out anguish,
though his anguish pales next to mine.
He finds transcendence in nature,
I in my back yard, raking up the remnants
of the Burning Bush, shoveling them into a can,
I, anti-Moses of Grove. 

Or perhaps I am the shrieking girl, wild-eyed,
hysterically controlled, my aura released.
A still paler horse drops dead on the ridge,
decomposing on the spot.
Is it not madness to comply with madness?
The Fridays come and go unlike Michelangelo.
And yet time seems to have solidified
encasing us in its amber like ancient insects.
Krishnamurti:  time is sorrow.

We spoke about the horizon, no one owns it,
that transparent eyeball of the beholder;
we spoke of Stravinsky declaring himself
a craftsman, not a musician—
too mechanical, I object, reduction of the Muse
to a lever or pulley of sorts.
Because:  you do not play things as they are
when you play them on the blue guitar.
Between mechanical advantage and passion,
I choose passion, that is, inspiration, vision,
hunch, insight and oversight, revelation.
I hear a girl shrieking in my brain.

The planet ransacked by sub-microscopic spores,
evil things in robes of ill intent, invisible Nazis.
I said I took the shrieking girl as a metaphor
which led us to opine the powers of comedy
versus tragedy.  Tragedy, I said, is implicit in comedy.
You retorted that happiness is the desideratum--
we must laugh and we must sing!
And I:  no happiness when shrieking.
Happiness, a false bauble, the opium of least resistance.
Then you went off to fish and revel in the wilderness,
I to raking, shoveling, clearing the yard.
Where is the young man carbuncular?
Samson or Sweeney Agonistes?  The agon.
That pair of ragged claws?

Perhaps we revert to the wave functions
from which we have sprung.
The cat is both dead and alive.
The shrieking girl shrieks on solid asphalt.
What wond’rous life is this we lead—
the nectarine and curious peach.
Merrily we roll along, roll along . . .
Time’s winged chariot frozen solid
as we pick away at the ice
and both shriek and sing at once.

Three volumes of Louis Gallo’s poetry, Archaeology, Scherzo Furiant and Clearing the Attic, are now available.  Three forthcoming volumes, Crash, Why is there Something Rather than Nothing? and Leeway & Advent, will be published in the near future.  His work will appear in Best Short Fiction 2020 forthcoming. A novella, “The Art Deco Lung,” will be published in Storylandia.  He was asked to do an interview/reading for the National Public Radio show "With Good Reason" which will be aired on sixty stations across the country.  First airing was Dec 12, 2020.

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