ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by Ian C. Smith

The Laughing Face of Youth

When the boss’s containers packed with expensive Italian ceramic tiles leaves the docks he summons us by phone, a curt snarl.  We need only be on call with our own transport, strong, and with the hides of illegal immigrants to unload at galley slave speed anointed by sweat.  Undergraduates, we are scourged by this swine who performs as if gripped by Tourette’s, his foul constant hectoring a weapon of war on workers.

Finding this job on the student noticeboard, we earn more for one irregular day’s labour than most student work pays in a week.  Between truckloads we three, the other two surfers, stretch languidly on neat grass beyond the boss’s office, waiting, bonhomie overt, chests sun-glistened, laughter exaggerated.  At the first sound of the next truck we spring to our feet without using our hands, ready like mercenaries.

The container truck driver watches, smoking while our Cerberus, bald, middle-aged, a bedlam of bellicosity in European-accented English, the only signs of intelligence his grasp of business, and the maddening insult, curses his toiling scum labouring at the double like miners edging ever deeper into a dark shaft rattling weighty boxes along a scenic railway of rollers towards the gloom of his cavernous warehouse.

Wise guys, our horizons endless, favourite books yet unread – think musk sticks rather than marijuana – unaware of time’s stealth, our hectic futures, we come up with haemorrhoidal diagnoses for the boss, pain-in-the-arse quips accentuating his most repeated swearwords, vying for grinned accolades, inverting our strenuous workout into almost-pleasure to be remembered these years on, trees swimming in the wind of late afternoon, my body now in autumnal decay, that apoplectic man surely long dead from a stroke, this cry from the past, his presence, a surprise, my opinion of who called the shots back then all changed.


Marco Polo my exemplar


    ‘And fondly I watched her
      Moved here and moved there’
          She Moved Through the Fair

Untethered from sleep since 2.30 a.m., counting not-to-be-left-behinds instead of sheep, my mind veers to early travel models, months of quiet sadness rationed now.  Memory’s skeins threadbare in some instances, chronology confused, the crux is, I want to live the nomadic life rather than stagnate unto death, which reminds me to empty the compost bin last thing.

Reading, and movies, played their part.  I thrilled to prisoners’ escape tunnels, shaking off hounds crossing rivers, any exit leading to elsewhere: a road snaking to distant pale hills, trains vibrating to the coast, wharf side energy.  A jet passing over stranded me in humdrumville where a visit to the supermarket is a social event is visceral.

Soon, I shall again feel the tremor of an aircraft’s muted howl taxiing towards windows of the transit lounge.  Ancient currents once crossed by heroes in wooden ships surge in wait.  My heartbeat cannot be so strong as it was when, a pilgrim, I pushed open a door to a dark bar set in a stone building, sat in anticipation at an old scarred table, listened to a singer’s holy voice, enchanted, yet these heartbeats linger.

Along my mind’s distant alleys then: angled first light blessing an island, its cordillera a cathedral risen from the ocean, after my midnight departure to land at dawn the same day, Date Line hopping after a body search, hair long, jeans patched; exploring an oriental harbour, fog shroud ascending, reminding me of a movie love story, its echoes of Madama Butterfly; highways hitchhiked to remote youth hostels, the joy of no forwarding address vanishing into other lives.

 In nocturnal limbo I listen to the radio’s soft croon, constant news of this loitering plague.  A man and woman, not young, have disappeared, leaving a car, tent, remains of their campfire.  I wonder if they encountered trouble, or abandoned iambic calm to embark on a secret adventure.  From the murmur of spent years, I recall dangerous situations in this ardent business of being alive, reason these out-rated a fetid life.  My neighbourhood awakens soon.  I shall empty those dregs from below my sink, check medication, masks.  Then away.


Decaying Tactics

Body wracked, tooth chunks probed by his tongue,
his fey mind quips about brain transplants.
He picks up, both now way beyond young,
body wracked, tooth chunks probed by his tongue,
hears once more his brother’s nostrums wrung,
requiems to squandered youth’s last chance.
Body wracked, tooth chunks probed by his tongue,
his fey mind quips about brain transplants.


South of Civilisation

Those flyers earned their scars leaping through flames
when their plane lacking lift failed to clear trees
beyond the airstrip where local nicknames
are vogue.  This fuselage so cramped splayed knees
would knock, her fair skin prickling, blood alert
bumping uphill, she recalls the tense tale
of their escape, one in a burning shirt.
Then the slow turn before speed, all or fail
as they hurtle past grass wallaby-cropped
to soar above cars parked near the crash site.
She peers down on the pewtered deep, ears popped,
safe to tick off islands’ names on her flight.
From the beach he salutes the engine’s strain,
chagrined, doubting he shall see her again.


 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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