ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by Lou Gallo



The suppressed gargoyles and scintillant shadows
Dancing on the horizon’s skin about
To break forth in almost unholy splendor
Over the vast underworld of doubt and confusion
And wrecked possibilities (rusted car chasses
In an abandoned junkyard), the step not taken,
The song not sung, love crumbling
To the powder of a disintegrating flower.

That midnight in a Tuscaloosa motel
When she lost her mind and you had to pin her down
To stop her from streaking out onto the interstate
In a flimsy nightgown because, she cried,
She wanted to visit her institutionalized family
Down the road.
She never looked more beautiful and as you held her
Squirming, you could not distinguish rescue
From passion.
                          Diagnosed back home as low potassium—
A silvery-white metal without which, in brain and blood,
Madness.  But you don’t remember any of it except
As a figment of inspiration.

Or the other one who rigidified into paralysis after love.
She claimed it happened to everyone, that it was normal,
As you sat on the side of the bed,
Your head clasped in your hands.
Remembrance dissolves such inklings when they
Resurface decades later in effervescence.
You have lost your taste for history.
You sacrifice chronicle and incidence
In avalanches of benign ignorance,
The sweet cream of clouds
Of unknowing—for the sake of redemption,
Correction and low-key, banal splendor,
Your ticket to the Museum of Lost Concerns.

Because when she lost her mind, when the other
Petrified, you had forethought both and learned
That awareness flattens vintage to vinegar
And everything always tastes the same.
You lift the glass of Pinot Noir to your lips,
Sniff, sip, swallow and whisper now.



I am trying to remember the difference
between J. Mobutu and P. Lumumba
(or was it J. Lumumba and P. Mobutu?)
and why it made an impact.
Same can be said for Scipio and Hasdrubal.
I remember the latter liked elephants.
And then Xerxes and Darius—
I once knew which was which.
Sargon I and Sargon II, was there another?

Why do we learn these things
only to forget what we learned?
Easy enough to remedy—Wikipedia!
But who really cares? Once I had
memorized the names and dates
of every Roman emperor because
I thought history was important,
not exactly the nightmare of Joyce
but close enough, and it seemed sensible
to understand how chronology unfolded.
Some say we are doomed to repeat
what we don’t know.



When the cleaning lady, Dora, comes in
to empty the trash and sometimes dust
the desks and bookshelves (her schedule
and my office hours must be identical)
she’s usually huffing and pushing
a massive apparatus of dusters, paper
towels, fluids and waste bins,
and when it’s Friday, she cracks
a crooked smile and rejoices,
“Thank God, it’s Friday,” and I rejoice
with her.
                 Our rapport is limited—grunts
about the weather, the poorly constructed
building, her grandkids, my daughters,
the usual chit-chat with those you really
know nothing about, nor they you . . .
but friendly enough.  And I think she senses
a certain camaraderie between us, and, if so,
she’s right.  I often envy her, simple, easy
work . . . unlocking doors, dumping trash,
feathering the shelves—no torturous thought
to it however physically arduous.  (I would
prefer the night shift, however, when
nobody else is around.)

I never talk to Dora about what I’m brooding
over—the introjection of false consciousness
into the mass mindset, the statute of limitations
riveted in all of us at birth, the sublime
in the pedestrian, the travesty of minimum
wage (as if anyone . . .), the phenomenology
of desire, Hegel’s absurd dialectics . . .
how on and on it goes.  Perhaps she too
so broods and doesn’t share with me,
but I doubt it.  Dora seems salt of the earth,
get the job done, go home, drink some beer,
watch a latest episode.

She’s not young either, though younger than I—
who isn’t?  She too has a bad lower back.
She too needs more money, more pleasure,
more everything.  But she seems content enough,
never miserable, never hostile, never complaining.
Whereas I . . . I do envy her, wish her the best,
hope they give her a raise, that her grandkids
cherish her.  I know each new day that I will
enter a clean, dust-free office as once again
I wrestle the black angels of false consciousness



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.


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.  He was invited for and interview and reading of his work by National Public Radio’s program “With Good Reason,” broadcast across the country, 2021. 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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