ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by Michael Atkinson


This Year’s Marriage Poem:
The Fountain of the Planet of the Apes of Flushing Corona Park

quite like any other fountain,
the pumas and eagles quite like others,
our children, galloping across that August, quite like any other children – but no, no,
they are the transilluminating forces we see by, see
the rapture hidden like a Constantinople ruby in our rib cages,
while other children merely absorb sun,
and you quite like other women, but, but,
other women bring down kingdoms, sell real estate,
think of their toenails upon waking,
other women negotiate with pope-kings,
other women do not wince as mustache hairs graze their labia but forbid me to shave,
other women are strangers,
they have not given some other 17 years
to me, primed me with sweet oil,
as if washing down an old Cutlass
in preparation for a longer voyage.


Understanding Others

Everyone has their own volcano
into which loathed enemies are shoved.
Their own octopus escape plan.
Their own anxious relationship with blenders.
Their own ardor for the airplane emergency exit door handle.
Their own fear of certain dreams, which, c’mon,
is like fearing a movie or a theme park ride,
but we all know people who, yeah, do.
Everyone loves a different gun,
a different bullet, models of machete and torch.
There’s no telling what anyone will do,
choose vanilla over mocha, evil over
not-so-evil, Montana over Miami.
My accountant speaks a language only he knows.
Over over under, up over underneath.
Everyone has their own ideas about wild pigs.
Just pigs, right?, we love barbecue and bacon, but
these tusked beasts, they’ll gut you in the woods
with a single jackknife throw of their
head-torso-haunch artillery, a single thrash
of angry pig muscle and teeth you never
saw coming, you thought it was merely
something we’d have no problem cutting up,
smoking, frying, and having with bagels
and mimosas.


Irrelevant Prayer

Of all things I wish
I’d realized that Santa was a ghost,
the GI Joes were ectoplasmic residue,
the Douglas fir was the cry of the poltergeist
(German: poltern = “to crash about,”
drunkenly perhaps, or
dizzy from shock, + Geist = “ghost” but also
spirit, mind, will, unexpressed essence,
left to wander and ricochet),
because belief is white bread
in the belly before bed.

But meh – just as I could never accept
the orphic mythology
of highway signs,
roadside memorials’ titan factor,
the mythopoeia of healing (blood
just stopping its burble
on its own, like a baby giraffe
immediately figuring out how to stand,
still wet from its old life).

I couldn’t even believe in lies,
the worlds at war
in the trees of Sayville, stranded
parachutists squabbling like crows,
this is the semblance of what it’s like
to miss the old clocks, as if
I’d ever believe time
would someday be no longer measured in gears,

but I miss books now, too, and even
saw one recently, in an airtight museum case,
its own little Sleeping Beauty coffin,
kissing strictly forbidden. Who,
I ask you, would believe
in a comet you could walk on,
or a hamburger you’d just as soon not eat?
I swear, even
the great bag of hammers
I supposedly resemble
carries, when I look,
the copper pipe lengths of every bathroom
I never locked myself inside.


Author Michael Atkinson tells us "As for me, my first book of poems, One Hundred Children Waiting for a Train (Word Works, 2001), won the Washington Prize. My poems have been in The Threepenny Review, Ontario Review, Crazyhorse, Prairie Schooner, New Letters, Michigan Quarterly Review, Chicago Review, and elsewhere, including the Louise Gluck-edited Best American Poetry 1993. I teach at Long Island University."


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