ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by Barry Seiler

Student and Child at the Door

She sits outside the classroom,
one arm cradling the Placement,
the other balancing the child
on her lap as she drinks the sweet
apple juice happily crying out
her placement to the world.
Too loudly for the students inside
fidgeting with their prompts,
trying to locate their main ideas.
I watch her writing on placidly,
whiting out her minor errors,
reading under her breath for unity,
coherence, development.
Later, we will judge her.
Has she provided, early on,
a thesis which argues a position?
Is it clearly linked to support
in a sturdy chain of cause and effect?
And, finally, from point to point
and paragraph to paragraph, has she
provided meaningful transitions?


Chekhov’s Ashtray

Chekhov kept one on his desk,
faded green, chipped, badly battered
by time and carelessness. It resembled,
to Chekhov, the remains of a railroad station.
When he was alone he would turn his head
to the side, bend to its level and listen.
Soon he could hear
the trains pulling in and pulling out,
the amused shouts of conductors
as passengers hurried to their carriages.
He invented little stories for them
to pass the time of their journey.
One, a portly salesman, cried out:
Let’s each tell a story about heartbreak.
The carriage rocked with laughter.
One evening, Chekhov dropped an ash into the tray.
He thought he might see
the ash become a locomotive
slowly entering the station.
But bending to it he saw instead an old man.
He seemed to have walked a long way in the snow.
Now he stood in line in the station. Inside
snow fell through the roof and gently down,
like a snow globe. Chekhov imagined
holding it in his hands and shaking it,
and watching the snow drift down
and the passengers animated inside.
The men shuffled forward toward the gate.
Their backs were bent as if expecting a blow.
An officer in ornate uniform pushed by
offended by this pathetic display.
Chekhov saw the old man whisper to the officer.
Maybe he had to use the toilet.
A smile flickered across the officer’s face
before he pushed him to the ground
and kicked him in the ribs.


The Forbidden

Each morning he hurried to her side
from the neighboring engineering school
and hand in hand escorted her
to her next required course.
She was all explanation and sincere denial
about her missing essays. But sir,
I left them in your mailbox this morning.
Surely you received them.
She stared out the classroom window
waiting for the top of his curly hair to appear
like a sail on the horizon, longing to be rescued
from the silent preferences of Bartleby,
the intolerable gloom of Goodman Brown.
Furtive kisses on the invalid ramp.
Urgent whispers. Glances skittering
wildly around the corridors—
forbidden love.
I received the Dean’s dead letter.
Was she attending? Passing?
Could I bring them in?
They entered his office so shyly
they must have thought themselves
standing before the Justice of the Peace.
He called in the parents.
But what could he possibly say:
This is America? This is how we live?
Exactly so, they must have thought. Exactly so.
Don’t ask what’s in a name:
impregnable walls, Impassable frontiers.
They were so sweet those few weeks, hand in hand,
wandering the institutional corridors
before the forbidden, before the towering gates
Slammed shut shocking them forward.
He returned to the subcontinent
where a suitable marriage was arranged.
She stayed here
and did as they proposed.


Barry Seiler has published four books of poetry, three of them by University of Akron Press. Frozen Falls, the most recent, was a finalist for the Paterson Poetry Prize. He lives on the outskirts of Roxbury NY, in Hubbell’s Corners, in blessed obscurity, with his wife Dian and cats Homer and Milton.

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