ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by Jonathan Bracker

The Man Who Has Something To Say

Today, Herbert has once again gotten out on the right side
Of his bed.  Though December is here and the sky is gray
He feels sufficient energy to walk into his morning unafraid.

Breakfast is simple, and good.  He is grateful for herb tea
And for a roof over his head.  He has enjoyed an email exchange
With a young man in Africa who is moving to Marburg, Germany,
To do volunteer work. 

It is one of those days, for Herbert, when almost everything
Seems to be making sense, going well.  He knows
There are other days when this is not the case
But puts them out of his mind. 

He would like to be of help also, this morning. 

But the email has been sent.  Herbert’s concern is:
Who else can receive what he has to say?
He feels altruistic and yet at loose ends.  Who
Can he select to be Listener?  And then Herbert recalls
The line from Samuel Butler’s The Way Of All Flesh
He delighted in when first he read it half a lifetime ago
And which he quotes whenever an opportunity arises:
“If it was not such an awful thing to say of anyone,
I should say that she meant well.” 

Now Herbert is chagrined.  What he wanted to say about Truth
And Meaning and Self-Control and Introspection –
Some of which he sent to the young man in Africa –
Rushes around in his mind like energized hamsters.

Discontent is almost ready to walk in and take up residence
If he does not solve the problem.  Herbert gives it real thought
And then sees the solution.  He knows now what to do
With what he has to say.  Realizing he has something
To say to himself

He shuts up and sits down;
He prepares to
Just listen.


Dating Someone From Another Country

Daisy is dating a man who is not the same as she
And they are now having difficulty
Getting along.  They think of themselves as too different:
Herbert likes classical music, Daisy does not.
Living alone, he microwaves frozen dinners;
Daisy prepares home-cooked meals and invites folks over.
But both live in San Francisco.  Both were born in the city
And attended parochial schools and ran in Golden Gate Park
And walked along the hill by the ocean to Coit Tower.
Their parents also were born there, in Pacific Heights.
Yet it looks as though the two of them may break up.

This is unfortunate, because they are almost lovers
And might well be able to make a go of it
If only they had been trained at home
Or learned in school or read in books
Or discovered from their own experiences
That everyone lives in another country,
Period.  But until Daisy and Herbert learn the language
And the customs, perhaps hiring an interpreter,
They are likely to consider giving up
And then trying with someone else, unaware
Of their understandable, forgivable ignorance.


Attempting To Get Through To Housman

A. E. (did they call you Alfred,
Your few friends?),
I hesitate to send
These words to you, Cambridge don, prickly, shy
World's authority on a lesser Roman poet,
And yet

I bet you would enjoy knowing how in 1976
At the age of twenty-two, in Manhattan
The summer after college, in lust with a charming
Red-haired young man of Irish ancestry,
An actor, I went to bed with him and there, tipsy,
He quoted lines of yours I had not read:
“Oh I have been to Ludlow fair
And left my necktie God knows where” –

And how this morning a twenty-four year old
Having recently written his first two poems
And being unusually enthusiastic about the art,
Having already read much of the wonderful stuff,
Stepped into my aged heart by excitedly reciting
Lines he had lighted on (I had been speaking of you):
“Oh I have been to Ludlow fair
And left my necktie God knows where.”

Poet who suffered deeply when your roommate
Moses Jackson whom you loved in 1887
Could not return your feelings, you who invented
The Shropshire Lad, and with him slowly succeeded,
A. E., can you put me in touch with your ghost, to bring him up to date
About your Ludlow fair necktie not being dead and gone?


Poems by Jonathan Bracker have appeared in The New Yorker, Poetry Northwest, Southern Poetry Review and other periodicals, and in eight collections, the latest of which, from Seven Kitchens Press, is Attending Junior High.
Bracker is the editor of Bright Cages: Selected Poems of Christopher Morley (University of Pennsylvania Press: 1965; reissued 2018); co-author with Mark I. Wallach of Christopher Morley (Twayne: 1976); and editor of A Little Patch of Shepherd’s Thyme: Prose Passages Of Thomas Hardy Arranged As Verse (Moving Finger Press: 2013).
He grew up in Louisiana and Texas, attended the University of Texas, taught college English in Texas, Indiana, Pennsylvania, California, and on U. S. Navy ships at sea for the Program For Afloat College Education. He has lived in San Francisco since 1973.

Return to Offcourse Index.