ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


"Leaf for the Turn of the Year", by Louis Gallo.


I wanted to jot down some brief meditation
commemorating the passage of one day to the next,
this September 1, so I scanned the library
and started to reread Ammons’ Tape for the Turn,
of the Year, that very skinny, very personal poem
he wrote way back, and which I had read
already way back,
and figured what the hell, I’ll do my own shorter
version, miniscule in compare, and moreover,
who can rival Ammons?

This won’t be composed on a roll of tape
feeding into a mechanical typewriter
or butcher paper (a favorite Beat method)
but on a word processor, MS word—
so much easier, which, take from one
who first learned to type on
an ancient Underwood, an eon ago
it seems.  All that gunky fuzz congealed
in the loops of the letters “e” and “b,”
ugly impediments the young today will never know.

Nor will I make it too skinny
like Ammons’ lines because I don’t much like
skinny poems—best length for me
is half the page for the sake of density.
Yet with skinny you can create an entire book
quickly, fill up all the pages with print
and lots of white space (never ignore
white space).  Tape records A.R.’s
every sensory, spiritual and mental
experience during the period of composure—
meaning composition, not serenity.
And although he attempts grandly to eschew
metaphysics . . . he fails:
Tape is metaphysically anti-metaphysical.

First an invocation to the Muse, a sop
to classical epics.  And what is the poem
but a kind of idiosyncratic, mundane epic,
the chronicle of what Walker Percy would call
an anyone anywhere?  So?  The Aristotelian
heroes and heroines toppled ages ago—
is Willy Loman an everyman hero
or merely another no-account victim
worth more dead than alive
as he himself bemoans?

The old spectacular Muses,
they too have disappeared.  Whatever, can now
serve as your Muse—someone, something,
a tree, grief and other abstractions, a hummingbird,
whatever incites or inspires you.  Whatever terrifies,
fascinates, excruciates, perplexes, dumbfounds,
alienates, mystifies, antagonizes, humbles
or turns you on.  Or off.  One thing the Muse
can’t be:  boring.  Insipid. Pedestrian—
though Kierkegaard sought the sublime
in the pedestrian.  So forget what I just said.
The Muse can be the kind of boring
that transcends itself.  Ditto Insipid.
Double ditto pedestrian.

 A.R. names them,
the ancient ones, so I’ll dispense with that,
though I really dig Mnemosyne.
So what if she was a consort of Zeus,
the mother of those nine officials?
Memory is the mother of history;
the despoiler of amnesia;
the lit fuse . . . that cherry bomb
of imagination and invention . . .

. . .oh how I remember the night
we took a walk in the new soft snow, she
in that black knit cap, her red hair flaring
out of it into space, her face encased
by red and black as the flakes drifted
into our eyes and we hugged under
a streetlamp and exploded into
each other . . . so warm we were
in the cold, hazy domain, flakes
in our eyes. 

There are others:  an accident, the girls
moving out, an Orange smear, the late
Daisy and Peaches, and, oh man, Fats
Domino, broken ribs, epiphany
after epiphany, some exalted, holy,
others absurd.

. . . as a kid I watched my grandfather
hand-tint negatives in his dark room.
I liked the sour smell of the chemicals,
the hum of the air conditioner,
the red light that made everything
seem other-worldly.  I would like
to hand-tint the past in such manner,
glorify it, exorcize the shadows.

Rachel interviewed Carmen Cruz last night
A year ago, the mayor of San Juan, hero-citizen
of devastated Puerto Rico.  I had watched
some of the mayhem unfold as I lay
in the Trauma Ward and some back
in the girls’ apartment, then commonwealth.
Footage of Carmen in waist-high bilge
assisting those about to drown
as Orange Smear insults Pocahontas.
And they’re dragging crippled people
protesting the tax “reform” robbery
out of the Senate chambers.
Let us grieve the death of a nation.
Potentate tossing discount Bounty
to the doomed.


But, she says, focus on immediacies
not on politics or you will go under.
What if I’m already under?

The leaf people came today and raked,
blew them asunder, dragged the crisped piles
out back and front on canvas tarps
where they will remain until the City
comes to haul them away.
Brown dead leaves are often
more beautiful than the new green leaves
of spring.  But soon they curl up
torturously and turn gray and brittle.
Thanatos versus Eros at every turn:

As kids we liked to jump into those piles
but that’s before we knew about ticks
and leaf mold and toxic spiders.
Don’t merely hand-tint the past,
change it, jump-start it into the present,
keep us ignorant and wise,
the way it was back on Columbus Street,
a kind of aboriginal dreamtime
minus the aborigines—
unless we were the aborigines. 

Hence, no epic here, no endless tape, a few
leaves maybe, an index card, if that, because
the future has shrunken—look there! only inches
in the distance where the map is the territory.
Put down that sutra, man, have an anchovy
with pimento and capers and olive oil
like we did in the good old days—
check out the static on your tv screen,
leftover radiation from the Big Bang,
and both weep and rejoice at the preposterousness
of existence: desire of the moth
for the star.

And here’s where that beautiful nurse, a woman-
child, with another paper cup, inside which
a sole Oxycodone to benumb me and coax me
to forget the diurnal cycles, the annuals,
the millennials, the eonic.  “Swallow with water,”
she sweetly orders, and I do as told because
the fractured ribs have begun to throb again.
But don’t think I didn’t resist the palliative,
don’t think I resisted resistance, don’t think
I ever wanted to uncommemorate
by forgetting.

Justin tells me that after the ambulances, after
the x-rays and scans, the IV’s and gurneys . . .
he tells he that when he drove her back to survey
the wreckage of our Rogue, she raced in circles
around the vehicle, screaming hysterically,
she too wounded, a massive black bruise
on her chest from the explosion of the airbag,
I unconscious far away, in another state, I,
dreaming what never happened, what happened.


But here now (who can pinpoint hic et nunc?)
its reunification of the fragments, a pastiche
of moments and spans, a patchwork, a stew,
an imbroglio of fact and fiction a la Herodotus—
or honeyed Sappho:  I burn.
So stroke the Muse, my fellow Amoricans,
One day to the next.  Live for the moment,
impossible balderdash.  Ditch the opioids
and resist, heed, scrape that nasty orange smear
from your retinas.

I often believe that I perished in that crash
and now persist as a ghostly figment among
corporeals . . . but here she is, holding my hand,
and she is warm, I feel her pulse at the wrist,
the Muse arousing me even at this late date
when one day oozes into the next, one week,
one month, another stunning year,
this my not
tape but scrap for the year, a grace note
the orchestra may miss, an inky sprocket
in the margins.


"As I Rock Reflecting", by Louis Gallo

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).

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