ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by Stephen Reilly


This red tide makes
Moses more real,

shedding the last straws
of our bulrushes.

A plague upon us,
the sunburnt worshippers of Ra.

West winds vile as curses.

The Gulf coughs up
a macabre bounty,

bloated, belly-up

fish and eels stretch out for miles,

goliaths and leviathans wasted
among sardines and grunts.

We are all its wrecks.

Our throats ripped
with airborne toxins, burning,

burning like candles
before dead demagogues,

and the stench, that stench.

Motels moan,
cafes tighten their belts,

tourists check out,
all packed and ready for

an American Sinai,
Arizona or New Mexico.



The kid, in his twenties, baits his hook
with a live shrimp snapping back defiantly.
He says he's had no luck. Not tonight.
The thieving crabs are everywhere.
No jacks. No blues. Not even a grunt.
He asks if I have any smoke or coke.
I offer a Winston. He shrugs and takes one,
wiping his hands on a T-shirt heralding
his pledge to Rock 'N Roll forever.

Flipping the bail of his reel, the kid casts.
The line zings, spinning off its spool. Plink.
His bait sinks beneath the dark water streaked
with moonlight. He reels in the slack
drags on the cigarette and walks away.
We have nothing more to say.
No tide turns our luck. We're all skunk,
but it will take an hour or two for it to dawn.
We have a few more shrimp to drown.



“Turn off that self-absorbed nonsense,” he growled
at the poet reading his best work on the radio.
The poet, contemporary and tenured, sang his lyric,
one read and praised by students in all fifty states.

On this day, a rock blue sky bore down on the man
with the gravity of Jupiter, and those words irritating,
verbal flea bites. Now, don’t think poorly of this man.
Think of yourself riding an elevator with inside traders.

This man eats novels and nonfiction for breakfast.
and deplores the boasts of beer-belching ballyhoos,
those Calibans cursing culture, or words festering
like ingrown hairs. He wants words poured

with concrete, sentences solid, nothing soaked
in artifice or ambrosia. His life, like ours, mortgaged
to daily concerns. Dawn after dawn lost in rush hours.
His job melts years to mud. He tries to pace himself in

his mid-season marathon of pizza or Chinese on Friday,
chauffeuring the kids on Saturday, church on Sunday.
Luckily, his wife patient as spring with late snows.
But this man knows, like you know, streetlights strip

the sky of its stars, leaving him little to wish upon.

My poems appeared in Wraparound South, Main Street Rag, Broad River Review, Cape Rock, Poetry South, and other publications. One of my poems appears in the anthology "Florida in Poetry: A History of the Imagination" (edited by Jane Anderson Jones and Maurice O’Sullivan, Pineapple Press, Sarasota, Fla. 1995).
I am presently working as a staff writer for the Englewood Sun, a daily Florida newspaper with circulation in south Sarasota County, Charlotte and DeSoto counties.

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