ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by E.M. Schorb


The heart of the true God would break
for such fools.  Christ would cry
for them in their stupidity—
husbands and wives signing away
their homes; the old, the hard-
handed scrawny, betraying their
children for such as these
plastic saints, with their radio
and television towers rising
all over the world, towers
of their power, and time-
shares for these poor-fool
souls, to visit a plastic heaven
and be regarded as its angels,
like the angels of a Broadway Show,
to shine in their pride before
that great production—God’s
Follies.  The impresario smiling
out at them from his great stage
knows they will not turn against him,
for to do so would make heaven fall,
would make him the devil of their days
and them the devil’s dupes.
So, when he’s exposed,
when he has his Dies Irae,
they march against the courts
declaiming his innocence, proclaiming
his martyrdom, while he hides under
a bed and cries, and must be dragged
out, and off to prison, the final
soul-less product of materialism,
eventually to return to the public
stage, bringing a best-seller of
his efforts at reform in a white-
collar prison and, perversely, of
his innocence and terrible martyrdom.



I looked into a half-filled beer bottle
left opened and standing out,
saw six dead roaches floating atop the stale, flat beer. 
I was disappointed.
I could have drunk the stuff.
I had no aversion to warm, stale, flat beer,
and had learned to put a head on it
by dropping an Alka-Seltzer tablet into it.
But I wasn’t about to drink beer that had
six dead roaches floating in it,
bodies like boats and legs like oars raised up,
so aimlessly. 
The place was filthy.
I needed order!

I went out, bought roach spray,
sprayed the walls, up and down,
back and forth, until billowing clouds
of poison were closing on me from every corner.
It was bitter cold out, but I knocked the
cardboard out of the windows
and let the fresh frosty air suck the poison
out from under my nose.
I blocked the windows again.
I surveyed the carnage.
Roaches of all sizes and shapes were swarming
over the walls, dropping from the cracked ceiling
with small, ticking sounds and
rocking on their curled, chitinous backs,
flicking, flailing, their feelers drooping.

The kitchen gas range was a stronghold,
a fortress of greasy grooves and baked-in crevices. 
I lit the oven and watched until the top
of the stove glowed red.
Out they came by the swarming hundreds,
feet burned away, feelers melting
into kinky hairs.  They ran over the stove
in desperation, panic, trying to find places
where they could put their feet.
Expectant mothers, their eggs in chitinous cases
at their rear ends, strug­gled with their hindmost legs,
as with an instinct to save their offspring,
to force or kick the cases loose.
Some had their cases dangling
by only one side when they leaped
from the top of the stove. 
As they landed on the floor and tried to crawl,
with their burnt feet, their dragging, kinked feelers,
with their wings askew, and their dangling,
thread-hanging egg cases, I sprayed them madly
then trampled, kicked, jumped up and down on them,
only wanting them dead.
I saw a fat, hideous albino roach,
already like the pale ghost of its dead self,
leap from the stove. 
I squashed it underfoot and swore
I could hear its white shell crack and
spray the pale muck of its insides out: squish!
When I lifted my shoe it dragged itself,
like animated pus, into a heap of glittering
brownish bodies.  Thousands of crooked legs
moved sluggishly—then, here and there,
with sudden convulsive speed—
over the place where the ghost had gone.

On the wall was a wooden plaque
that held sets of false teeth, an exhibit,
sold by a dental supply firm to dentists.
It belonged to an artist friend who was to use it
for some arcane artistic purpose
but who had forgetfully left it here.
I grabbed the plaque from the wall
and mashed it down atop this horrible mass
of half life.  Then I jumped on it, up and down,
not distinguishing the sound of the break­ing teeth
from the sound of roaches snapping on the stove
like popcorn.  When I looked down
there were rolling and bouncing human teeth
among the slimy dead and still crawling.
Sakyamuni says they will live again.
Needed:  Sneaky Pete, pot, peyote.


E.M. Schorb’s poems are slated to appear in next issues of Barrow Street, Blue Unicorn, and Trinacria. In addition to winning First Place, Chapter Book, from Purple Dragonfly Book Awards, his children’s book, Five and Ten, was named Finalist in the just-announced Readers’ Choice Book Awards.

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