ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by Lou Gallo


I am thinking about what I am not
thinking about, which requires a swerving
from bird in hand to a fowl in the bush,
ingots of time fossilized in gray matter,
most lost forever, most not germane,
though why then do such relics persist?
For instance, I am on a ferry from New Orleans
to Algiers, standing on deck, fingers clutched
to the railing, on the way to visit a Mardi Gras
warehouse, this occurring years ago.
Why remember this and not the warehouse itself,
its massive, decorative floats ready to parade,
some theme from Greek mythology perhaps,
for Endymion or Krewe of Venus.
Or sitting in my car parked beneath
an underpass with Vickie, bitching non-stop
about the strictures of her military father
back on base.  Why remember the bitching
and not the kiss, secluded as we were,
that kiss inevitable.
Who can explain the vagaries of memory,
why you remember red, she blue?
As if it mattered.  As if memory composes
each of us, constructs, deconstructs, revises,
alters as a tailor alters your tuxedo, as if
something untoward about the original,
that template of dream and temptation,
the experience, the voltage, itself, the Ur
crucifixion or resurrection, or merely
the taste of some scrumptious dish
concocted by your mother or grandmother
of great-aunt or the woman who vanished—
can’t remember who but the taste alone remains,
an eternal Proustian incident, the salient ingredient
you have sought ever since but never found
aside from the pleasure persisting in your mind.
That alone remains, a sweet shadow,
not the savory concoction itself.



In the voo-doo shop on Basin Street
I bought a shrunken head and phial
Of gris-gris dust which I hoped
Would steady me and give me leverage
When the fulcrum tilted.

I sat in the graveyard beside the tomb
Of pirate Dominique You and watched
A beetle scurry across his name
Etched there and took it as a sign
of neither good nor bad but raw
Indifference to our pain.

In Chinatown the zodiac
Printed on a tablecloth
Proclaimed it was the Year of the Rat
As empires died and others rose
In frigid mockery of time

I slurped a gumbo roux of okra,
rice and shrimp at The Oyster House
And wondered again about the past,
About the times we had back then,
Why the flags hung at half-mast
And why the wind was whipping up
As I drained my zesty cup.

I heard a droning chime close by
And sate me down upon a chair
When before me there appeared
The vision of a luminous stair
Leading neither up nor down
But to a magnificent nowhere,
Where I was, had always been,
And yearned to dwell for long within.



Once when I was desperate, I invited a girl to the movies,
“Death in Venice” at the Prytania, a quaint old theater that featured
only foreign movies.  Sadly, my only rapport with her
was fascination with the rivets of her blue jeans, embarrassing
to admit—and consider what this says about men in general
and me in particular.  She was a pastel drawing, an out-of-focus,
languid beauty, a fact as objective as the chairs upon which we sat.

Why does beauty so beguile?  Does it serve as some antidote
to the vague ugliness of the world, an ambassador to another realm
where thought and business remove their suits of armor
for a while?  How old Tantalus must have suffered.
My date chewed gum noisily and was clearly unhappy with me
and the movie; she fidgeted, sighed, even moaned as the hero
eyed up young Tadzio in the hotel elevator.

Finally, she turned to me and spat out unkind words: “That old man
is a queer, right?  Can we go?”  My response as we walked
up the aisle toward the green exit:  that was Dirk Bogarde, a great,
great actor; that was a book by Thomas Mann, a great, great
writer; and the music, ah, the adagio to Mahler’s Fifth Symphony,
great, great music.”

But the rivets mesmerized me and I followed them meekly
out into the street hoping they might lead to succor
or at least reprieve and relief.  I curse our merciless need for beauty,
how it can blind us into groping for rivets.  What we might call bathos.



As the blade arcs to penetrate his skull,
 the vision of happy proletariat workers
in a mural by Diego Rivera soothes his mind,
yet subsumed almost instantly
by the radiant face of a beautiful child
with curly golden locks, her pale face
glistening like fine porcelain china.
Lace, collars, hair bows, patent leather shoes—
all the accoutrements of elegant aristocracy.

He clasps her small delicate hand and leads her
through a park in Amsterdam toward the carousel
where he hoists her onto one to the wooden horses,
holds her tightly as they spin in dizzying circles
to the mad fireworks of a calliope waltz.
Before the ride ends she has blossomed into
a dazzling young woman of high birth and mien.
Still astride, she bends over to kiss his forehead.
He smells the attar of rose water in her hair.
He gently draws her down from the beast,
clasps that bounteous wheat mane, leans her
forward to meet his molten lips.  Thereafter,
they elope to the wilderness and feed on
blueberries and cream—like Elvira and Sixten—,
fancies himself Archduke Leon Romanov
heir of St. Petersburg and the Winter Palace.

Before Mexico.  Before the ax, the execution.
The blade digs deeper, he doubles over, screams
At his assassin, “It wasn’t I!  Lenin gave
The order, not I!  It was Lenin, Lenin gave
The order, not I.  They’re all dead.  Massacred.
Nicholas!  It was Lenin, he’s the butcher!
Not I!  Anastasia!  My darling, my darling,
My life and my bride!  It wasn’t I!”


Four volumes of Louis Gallo’s poetry, Archaeology, Scherzo Furiant, Crash and Clearing the Attic, are now available. Why is there Something Rather than Nothing? and Leeway & Advent will be published soon.  His work appears in Best Short Fiction 2020. A novella, “The Art Deco Lung,” will soon be published in Storylandia.  National Public Radio aired a reading and discussion of his poetry on its “With Good Reason” series (December 2020).His work has appeared or will shortly appear in Wide Awake in the Pelican State (LSU anthology), Southern Literary Review, Fiction Fix, Glimmer Train, Hollins Critic, Rattle, Southern Quarterly, Litro, New Orleans Review, Xavier Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Missouri Review, Mississippi Review, Texas Review, Baltimore Review, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, The Ledge, storySouth,  Houston Literary Review, Tampa Review, Raving Dove, The Journal (Ohio), Greensboro Review,and many others.  Chapbooks include The Truth Changes, The Abomination of Fascination, Status Updates and The Ten Most Important Questions. He is the founding editor of the now defunct journals, The Barataria Review and Books: A New Orleans Review.  His work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize several times. He is the recipient of an NEA grant for fiction.  He teaches at Radford University in Radford, Virginia.

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