ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published since 1998 by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg


Poems by Louis Gallo

**with allusions to Blake


Hell is other people.
I myself am hell.
            —Robert Lowell

Been a while since I, Blasphemer, descended
so I choose this time the anabasistic stairway
to liberate those stranded up top
singing hosannah with angelic hummingbirds.
Problem is, no one’s home, the premises
evacuated, the crystal chandeliers smashed
to bits, shards scattered across marble floors,
the golden throne stolen, dusty cobwebs
stitching weeds sprung from fissures,
fetid garbage and rusted tin cans,
moldy packaging soiling the yellow brick road,
dried-up ambrosia stains from broken kegs.

Too eternally boring, I presume,
the reason I overstayed my welcome downstairs
for the last two millennia, do si doing
with drunken, ragged, hopeless ghosts—
fiddlers, saxophonists, poets, miscreants,
mad artists, dancers, tramps, sluts
(but no Hitler’s, Pol Pot’s, Stalin’s
or any of that ilk—they get oblivionized —)
who, by the way, know how to have a good time,
not pious piousing, no tedious hymns,
no priests in black gowns walking their rounds
binding with briars our joys and desires.

But nobody now left in the Underworld either.
Both heaven and hell harrowed away
in a sweeping diaspora of fantasy.
Just you, me, the birds, trees & clouds
as usual, oh, and the flowers and animals,
all broken out of the cave of illusion,
the expulsion from Eden—which is childhood.
Surely better to frolic in that garden, no?
Surely better to believe in Santa Claus
& Mr. Bingle & the Tooth Fairy, right?
Otherwise, the light of insight might seize
the brain with frantic pain.



***with allusions to Frost, Keats, Wordsworth,
Auden, Coleridge and Eliot

If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?
God’s in his heaven/All’s right with the world!
                                    —Robert Browning

Thought so all along, I, Bodhisattva,
sing to the leaden-eyed, the sad sacks,
ye of little faith, the cynics and blasphemers.
Have you not gazed at those mystic photos
from James Webb and Hubble, have you not
trembled with delight and awe, have you not
peered into the crater of the ant? 
Have you not sniffed the attar of roses
for ten seconds in a fifteen-billion-year-old
universe or received benediction
from your dog?
Have ye never stood alone on the edge
of the wide world and thought until
thought itself flared into rapturous visions
or intimations of immortality?

But, blah, you reading this, forget Longinus,
forget the Zohar, forget Julian of Norwich
and the ecstasy of St. Teresa, the apogees,
the ascents, Jacob’s ladder and Mr. Rogers . . .
for in your hands you hold the flower of the ages;
you on manna dew have fed and drunk
the milk of paradise—her flashing eyes,
her floating hair, she who brought you back
to life, she, the jewel in the lotus, the cosmic wife
whose lips you kissed in time outside of time,
who bore your children, the sine qua non,
. . . ye gads, man, she is all ye know on earth
and all ye need to know —
open your inner eyes and see, cherish,
the bounty widespread all along, right there,
in your arms, in your heart, hallelujah,
go in peace, heaven is full, there is no hell
other than any sad, waste time without her.
Thus speak I, once ignorant as you,
wiser now, having lost it all.



Vishnu sneezes in Angkor Wat
and Crete sinks another inch into
the wine-dark sea—
damned butterfly effect & Newton:
for every action there is an equal
and opposite reaction.
How’s that for privacy and dignity?
Add Jung and synchronicity
and you’re mired in a gossamer
of complexity, foreign entanglements
galore—George warned about them.

Suppose (ah, the beauty of supposition!)
we encounter an inert, otiose butterfly
choosing not to flap its wings?
What the equal and opposite inaction?
The thanatotic luxury of stasis perhaps?
Pietro asleep in the umbric shadow
of a towering cactus after drinking
a fifth of sloe gin in Beesville?

Or thought itself—she who stands over
a skillet frying plantains, you gazing at her
from the doorway:  I love thee, Ariadne.
For every thought there is an equal
and opposite:  I hate thee, Ariadne.
Thesis, antithesis . . . whither synthesis?
Thou shalt not pursue the moribund
strictures of logic or syllogism.
Humankind cannot bear very much reality.

For god’s sake, man, ask not for whom
the butterfly wings flutter . . .
savor the frying woman’s dessert,
savor the frying woman,
forsake whatever’s equal and opposite.



To ease my mind of the clamor and noise
a swarm of Furies last night bestowed
I drove to the carousel in Audubon Park
to watch carefree children undulate
in graceful circles atop wooden horses
as they rose and fell to the calliope
of sprightly marches by John Philip Sousa.

I climbed the steps and entered within
but espied no children, no mothers or fathers,
no grandparents clutching bags of popcorn and juice.
Only, mounted on the horses, skeletons
of everyone I’d ever known who had passed—
my father foremost, grandfather and mother,
aunts and uncles, young and old, cousins
loved or despised. And another:
I saw the bones of one who had consumed me,
a kind but teasing beauty I had desired
and for whom I would have ached and died.
She, untimely, perished instead.

I saw ancestors, both illustrious and ragged,
I saw generations of our ancient past—
and those to come, not yet alive, up and down
to the pace of Mozart’s Great Mass for the Dead.
Each apparition beckoned me forth
onto that spherical theater of dread,
and, though tempted, I resisted their lure,
paused, stepped back, turned and fled.

I wandered about and finally reached
a zoo with adjacent aquarium.
I stood transfixed near a glowing display
of silent sea horses deftly floating
amid seaweed in oceanic calm
where no Furies shrieked, no sirens sang.
Hushed mourning bells clanged outside.
Someone, somewhere whispered a psalm.


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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