ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


"Triptych: Ninety Versts", by R.L. Swihart


In the hour or so before she gets up (still dark but the buses
are running):

C slept on the couch (he sometimes sleeps with N),
so he meets me in the hall

I turn on my reading light (an aura really, pushing weakly
against the dark) and let C out on the unlit patio.
He moves according to his own lights,
finally finding the perfect spot

While he is eating (two treats and one scoop of kibble),
I fill the Keurig with water and a pod

Now he is curling up on the couch (he is the larger image of his puppy self).
I am in my chair. My Delta cup goes back and forth, from glass table
to lips. I am following Chekhov to Sakhalin, traveling
through him, to find something as impossible
as the “other side”

“... then we came upon the bank of Lake Baikal, which in Siberia
is called the sea. It is like a mirror. The other side, of course,
is out of sight; it is ninety versts away”



In the corner, the aura (my reading light) is laboring
against the darkness, through a silver cord

I was up early (I was up all night), in the chaise of my reading chair,
slogging through the mud, waiting in the rain, taking things
into my own hands (or not)

When she awakes she will want her coffee first, maybe
a small bowl of fresh figs. Walnuts if
I can find them

She will need my help with clothes (before and after
her shower), old and new bandages,
drying off

(Lift your right arm, slowly, and slide it in.
Then your head. Then the other arm)

In the corner, the aura (my reading light) is laboring
against the darkness, through a silver cord



In the novella Five Years, Yulia is in an art gallery and steps
in front of a landscape Isaac Levitan
should’ve painted

“The banks of the Shilka are picturesque like stage scenes but, alas!
there is something oppressive in this complete absence
of human beings. It is like a cage without
a bird”


Nearly a week after her fall and she is progressing. She can make
her own coffee now and last night she walked
down the Greenbelt with me

By November we’ll be on our way to Kalispell (I’ll take the train
and pick her up at the airport). Enough of the Sun Road
will be open, providing us with realia for cage
and bear

“Yes, Marya Vladimirovna! As it is written in the scripture: he had not
time to cry out, before a bear devoured him. So I had not time
to cry out before an unseen power has drawn me again
to the mysterious distance”

Note: Quotations are from Anton Chekhov’s Letters
translated by Constance Garnett


Author R L Swihart was born in Michigan but now resides in Long Beach CA. His work has sparsely dotted both the Net and hardcopy literary journals (e.g., Cordite, Pif Magazine, Denver Quarterly, Quadrant Magazine, Salt Hill Journal). His third book of poetry was released July 2020: Woodhenge.

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