ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by Ian C. Smith

Exile’s Pang

How soon the bright days of our youth and beauty end.  Horace Odes  ll.11

After half a lifetime of guilty productive seclusion, when I see them again on a mutual friend’s Facebook I feel as dated as blotting paper, my thoughts of meteorite showers battering a dwarf planet stranded in orbit at the distant reaches of our universe.  I realise my own appearance could elicit a similar effect.  We know scraps of each other’s lives, details blurred by different values.  One photograph is of me, clean-shaven.  I can’t recall where or when, or even the ghost who shot me, but guess.

Curiosity morphs into morbid fascination, another hour of my life frittering away.  Recognition of some aged faces baffles, pop-up tags propping up memory, shining faces of children as generic as bunches of flowers.  In that photo I hold a bottle in one hand, a drink in the other, look haggard, prematurely old.  This feeling cloaking me, familiar, conflicting, one of unregretted reason weighted with too late’s intangible sadness padding in as soft as a cat’s paws, transfixes.  I like being alone, but there is a limit.

I log-off, see through our windows my neighbour’s visitor lighting a pipe, looking out at the threshold of rain.  I gave my father, who wished he had never married, a pipe for his birthday when I was a boy with no understanding of sexual tension, old jealous demons.  Thunder rumbles.  Tobacco’s aromatic waft imagined, draws me back past people, before marriages, divorces, to a time of church bells on Sunday mornings, a time of yellowed boots drying in the hearth, of childish joy in life’s miracle before days start to come apart, when one trusted that wishbone, the future.


On hearing of her pregnancy long ago

Sifting through mementos that include his only photo of her, seasoning yet another review of pathos, he comes across his long-disused P.O. Box number, recalls writing it automatically on the self-addressed envelope with the letter posted three months earlier in hope of finding her.  A sheer fluke to discover it, or is it?

Small mistakes influence life’s slalom course, steeper, faster, now, wisdom supposedly swapping places with the glorious physical, one’s ascendance, followed by the other’s, not long both.  As a student he read Hardy, Dickens, et al, is also familiar with screen costume drama, gets irony, declarations of love or guilt, undelivered letters, life-changing stuff.

Information sought in trepidation was chapters of her biography without him.  Hopes risen like a rocket reached an apex then hairpinned as, not for the first time, he questioned his common sense, his mistake unbeknownst then.  A stranger might have received her reply, shared it with laughing friends.  Now he burns with abashment’s ague.

Disturbing youthful events stirred him to compose the letter, haste induced by nervousness, its obsolete return address.  He is guarded about sharing his phone number too soon.  Fragmented recollection, chance, the stunned realisation of his blunder, crowd in.  He could be a Guinness Book of Records contender in a category of missteps.

Mobilising belief, he sweats over the letter again, that stinking delicious struggle with words just beyond reach, concentrating like a monk over calligraphy on precious parchment in his cell.  The need to know if a reply was sent insistent, he grasps this slight chance for atonement, wanting to reverse reel his life.

A golden autumn evening like a prayer beyond his window, light wind, leaves surfing the air.  Lonely people listen for their phones’ signals, or await mailmen, invent scenarios, believe in fate, miracles, despite education.  They stare into space, try to find a page read millions of words ago to recall exactly how things ended. 


Wet Saturday

My sixteen-yr.-old lives with his mother where I stayed overnight.  A truck grinds around the corner, a dog barks, a hopeless sound.  Looking out on this streetscape I see power lines, the weathered fence, glister of rain, a slush of leaves, no vibrant Garden of Eden this.  Still early morning.  His mother left for work even earlier.  Might I remember this when other days have wasted away, when only unrevealed secrets are left?

Waiting to drive to our son’s away football match, usually a furious slog played in a cold wet smell of mud to angry shouts, accusations, the crunching of ligament and bone, I look up at the mock ten-foot high mailbox next door, Air Mail painted above its slot, a witty relief from this excoriation.  Imagining a promiscuous sparrows’ penthouse, I recall the past’s blue aerogrammes bearing longed-for news between separated beloved.

My son says, I’ll drive, as if the thought just occurred.  We talk tactics about today’s game, catching up, streets slowly darkening with rain, wipers sluicing, demister coping with our living breath.  I haven’t even noticed your driving, I say later, as if the thought just occurred.  The expression on his face.  He parks near the team bus, teammates, coach, watching, a damp earth smell as I remove his L-plates before following him to the game, confident I didn’t fumble my chances.


Author Ian C Smith’s work has been published in Antipodes, BBC Radio 4 Sounds,The Dalhousie Review, Griffith Review, San Pedro River Review , Southword, The Stony Thursday Book, & Two Thirds North.  His seventh book is wonder sadness madness joy, Ginninderra (Port Adelaide).  He writes in the Gippsland Lakes area of Victoria, and on Flinders Island.

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