ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by E.M. Schorb


By artificial time, full of dates,
the pygmy time of people, not
the giant genuine time of stars,
she is late, the alarm rings out desire.
Artificial time is murdering his lust.
And the all-night lover of years ago
(his sleepy-eyed but vivacious wife
hurriedly hitching stockings to
garterbelt, slipping into heels)
looks on, bereft.

                           A hard life
has left him exhausted by night,
but a dream’s sensual levitation
engages his tumescent morning lust.
Faithfully, this indiscipline of oversleep
by one who understands his plight,
he tries to see as healthy nerves;
although old men of the gold watch,
being doubtful of prowess, suspect
always a planned escape, yet
feign indifference.

                               The clock’s
silent now, the old man blows smoke,
the coffee in his cup cold as his heart.
The choice was made between himself
and sleep.  His wife had lust for sleep
and not himself.  She has escaped
when she might have wakened early,
like a morning-glory, for his tested love.



I  From the Crib

From the deep recesses of the universe
he woke to find himself
gumming the blue lead paint
from the top rail of his crib,
blissfully unaware
of the crack in the Liberty Bell,
or the Liberty Bell itself,
for that matter; Mussolini in Abyssinia,
Schicklgruber, in Guernica or the Rhineland,
Tojo in China,
or any of the problems
of the age into which he had been dropped.
The lead paint was delicious and maddening,
and would,
no doubt
make a mad poet of him.

He looked around and for the first time
saw other humanoids (oops, hominids),
much bigger, but basically the same. 
They, also, wobbled on two legs,
holding drinks to their lips,
as he held his empty baby bottle to his.
One fell back into a faded, flowered
easy chair, in what seemed,
even to his innocent eyes,
a flat, shabby and small,
compared with
whatever had been before.

Years later, photographs would tell him
who they were.  Someone had taken
several Kodak snapshots.
Here was his young Aunt,
a fourteen-year-old schoolgirl,
who hookied to the City of Brotherly Love
to help with her new nephew,
the young Master, her big sister’s first child.
An older boy would have noticed
the beginnings of her breasts—
in five years his father’s big hands
would be lifting the full version of them—
and that she was a pretty young thing
with startling blue eyes and
chestnut waves piled up,
but he was unaware of
these uplifting attractions.

The woman was his Mother.
Later he would understand
that at that point in her life, made-up
and Marcelled, people said that she looked
like the actress Mary Astor, except
for her harlequin-shaped glasses.
He learned that in a dry town
you get booze from a man
who winks at your Mother.

The central figure, the one who had collapsed
in the armchair, wearing what then he,
himself not much more than an homunculus,
would eventually discover—by these presents—
looked like the famous-at-the-time
Arrow Collar Man.

Well, that was his old man, tall, dark, and
handsome alcoholic,
Depression-fallen from stocks
and bonds salesman, to selling
The Book of Knowledge in the territory
assigned him by the publisher.

His young Aunt stuck a rubber nipple
in his mouth and quickly
the picture faded and never came back, ’til now.


II  Denial

When he was about three feet tall,
the gray streets of Philadelphia
in winter were very long and tiring
and slowly climbed uphill toward a dark sky.
His mother dragged him along.
Where were they going?
Their arms were empty.
Not shopping?
Was there no money?
Why were they walking, walking so far?
He began to get very cold.
Then, on the deserted street,
a stranger appeared before them.
His mother knew the man,
yes, and they laughed together,
startling echoing laughter,
too high above him for him to have any idea
what was funny, but something obviously was,
for their laughter tinkled down upon him
like sprightly snowflakes, like tinsel and sequins,
a glittery sprinkling of fairy dust.
He tried to get between them,
where it fell most heavily.
His mother yanked him back and away,
toward her own back.
Then the man seized his mother
in his arms and dipped her back
toward where he waited,
and kissed her hard and long.
It was wrong, wasn’t it?
Because this man was not his father.
His father was up ahead somewhere,
somewhere at the end of the long gray avenue,
somewhere up several flights of stairs,
in a small ugly flat that looked down on the avenue,
drinking.  It was wrong, wasn’t it?  Because
his mother did not struggle to be free.
Instead, she simply held him behind her,
away from them.  He thought he might cry.
The man seemed to lift his mother
off the pavement
and to place her back on it,
her high heels clicking, then firm.
She pulled him from behind her
and around to her side,
her other hand held out to the man
as he stepped back, back,
and turned and went a little way,
and stopped, and turned again,
and winked, and blew her a kiss,
and turned once again,
and went on down the long
slowly sinking avenue.
Who was that? He wanted to know.
His mother dragged him forward up the hill.
“Who was that man?” he asked.
His mother climbed on, up the hill,
pulling him along with one hand
and wiping tears from her eyes with the other.
“Mommy, who was that man?”
His mother ignored him
until he screamed his question at her,
in his tiny, shrill, hysterical voice.
The question and its answer had become imperative,
like the bearing down of traffic at the intersection.
Finally his mother said, “What man?”
He looked back and saw the receding figure
of the man who had kissed his mother,
no more than a dot now, a dot in time.
He tugged his mother half around and pointed—
“That man,” he said.
“I don’t see any man,” his mother said.
“I haven’t seen anyone since we began our walk,
and neither have you.”
He looked back again, desperately,
but the man was gone, only eternity,
only infinity remained to see.  “You see,”
said his mother, “there is no one
on the street but us.”
She was lying, wasn’t she,
or could he not believe
the evidence of his own eyes?
From then on he struggled
to keep his hand free of hers.
From then on he believed
what he had heard,
that there was a crack
in the Liberty Bell.

E.M. Schorb’s collection, Words in Passing, recently won the 2023 Grand Prize for Poetry at the Southern California Book Festival.

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