ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by Steven M. Smith

Mailman of Songs

            in memory of John Prine 1946 – 2020 

You quit your day job delivering
mail to deliver music—troubadouring
through the seasons with a guitar
strapped over your shoulder
like a mailbag laden with fifty
years of songs.  Music became your
civic duty.  Today is Good Friday. 
It has been three days since COVID-19 silenced 
you and left us kneeling in front of your songs. 
Sometimes—still sheltered-in-place—
we stare out our closed windows
and feel a bit closer to you as we
watch the viral clouds of this April 
still spewing shards of glass. 
We have borrowed your blue umbrella—
and placed it on the shoulder of the world.
Have you started your heavenly agenda?
If so, we have a favor to ask. 
When you get to the tilt-a-whirl, will you
give that pretty girl a kiss for us, too?


For Now

Be very thankful if you are shorter than
the “You Must Be This Tall to Ride”
sign at life’s amusement park.  For that boney
pervert over there in the cloak—the one leaning
against the fortune teller machine, the one
watching you with a stare as hollow as eternity,
the one stroking the blade on his exposed
scythe like there is no tomorrow—might be
patiently waiting for a growth spurt.


At the Poets’ Picnic

After the poets ate and had drinks,
they just stood around in couplets
or quatrains with their hands in their prosodies.
Then one of the older poets, a widower,
the one sneaking sips from a flask of free verse all
afternoon, made a spondaic remark about someone’s assonance.
And the response was this: “Take your
itty-bitty cacophony and go enjamb
it—you oxymoronic cliché!”
Someone spewed some dirty limericks
to lighten the moment.  And then one
of the younger single poets started laughing
so hard she went onomatopoeia
in her yoga shorts.
Blank verse accented the faces of some. 
Trite rhymes nervously spilled
from the lips of others.
Many began scanning their smartphones.
And someone started drafting a dirge.
It was only half past hyperbole—the sun
was still high above the horizon’s heroic drama—

but the picnic was over.


Hardware Department

You grab a red basket on wheels
with the telescopic pull handle. 
Shopping carts are too clunky
to navigate the aisles with those
display boxes arranged like barrier
boulders.  As you enter the hardware aisles,
a rubber mallet starts thumping
in your chest cavity.  You are now
breathing as if your face is covered
with a respirator for sanding drywall. 
Here comes an associate in a red vest,
a name tag lanyard clipped to the chest pocket. 
You refuse help.  (Only amateur do-it-yourselfers
let on they need assistance in hardware!)  Ooh,
peek in the drawers of carriage bolts,
split washers, lock nuts, lag screws!  Ah,
pull the sample cabinet doorknobs bolted
to their plastic bins!  Then slip fingers
inside the special-order drawer pulls
attached to the display wall, and give them
a gentle tug!  Whisper to all the boxes
of exterior deck screws.  Let them know
how you would like to attach them
to your new case of assorted drill bits! 
Pinch the endless packages of assorted
drywall anchors!  Squeeze the countless
plastic bags of eye hooks winking
from their shelf hangers! You start to get
lightheaded.  Anxious sweat on your
face feels like the overspray from garage
door lubricant.  Your legs are a pair
of overused bungee cords.  With the manners
of a bent reciprocating saw blade, you zigzag
cut your way from the hardware department
and meet your wife over in patio furniture. 
You need to rest a moment.  Controlled deep breaths. 
Then ask her what you even came in for!

Steven M. Smith tells us: my poems have appeared in Offcourse, as well as publications such as The American Journal of Poetry, The Meadow, The Worcester Review, Rattle, Ibbetson Street Press, Better Than Starbucks, and Mudfish. My first book of poems, Strongman Contest, was recently released by Kelsay Books. I am the Writing Center director at the State University of New York at Oswego. I live in North Syracuse, New York.

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