ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by Barry Seiler

Pocket Watch                                                                                                             

Matter of fact, at lunch,
Ridge told us he was dying.
I did a double take and kept silent.

Who shares these things with people who are
more than acquaintances and less than friends?
But Gene, his old friend, had recently passed,

memory mostly gone, raging in a nursing home,
tossing furniture across the common room.
They sent him home to die. He walked

downstairs in the middle of the night,
settled in his easy chair and closed his eyes.
His soul jumped—splash—into the soul soup.

A few months after Gene, Ridge died,
peacefully, in his own home,
having organized his passing

so no one was much disturbed.
That, we supposed, was how he liked it.
Ridge had given Gene a gold pocket watch

with the presidential seal engraved on its cover.
It was a piece of government swag Ridge got
working for LBJ, desegregating schools

long before the brief time we knew him.
Gene’s wife found it among his belongings
and donated it to the thrift shop

after Gene and Ridge’s passing.                                                                                             82
We paid a small price for the remembrance.
It plays Hail to the Chief when you open the gold case

and hold the face to the light.



I meant to mail you this-- this little volume,
With Dante in Florence, I found at a bookstall
at a left bank quay. Only one franc.

It was Passover and for the life of me
I could not remember the four questions
I recited in childhood,

stuttering before the family.
I could not remember the whole business
about bread and bitter herbs.

Years later I found the book
hidden behind Dickinson, Desnos,
and the Viking Portable Dante

I lugged around the continent
unable to enter the Comedy though
I wandered the verge of the Vita Nuova.

Too many years had passed to send it
and you—you
were no longer here to receive it.

I was stacking books on the floor,
one to keep, one to donate,
getting ready to move upstate

to my first home which I                                                                                                                   
mistakenly believed
would be my final home.

I remembered the harpist tuning up
in the little park across from
Shakespeare & Company,

the tender way he embraced the harp
when he walked away acknowledging
imaginary applause with a nod of his head.

I remembered the workers across the way
in the Notre Dame Cafe downing their coffee
and calvados in the chill morning.

Late one evening on Blvd. St. Michel
I saw two Palestinians
standing under a streetlamp

tongues out, heads up, tasting snow.


Delmore Schwartz at the Automat                                                                                        

He can keep his back turned,
but sooner or later he has to turn
around and find an empty table
and walk by all those eyes.

He imagines himself a child
giggling with delight
at the sound of those nickels
dropping into the slot.

Who doesn’t love a child?
Who told him to try the baked macaroni?
It’s not half bad. Looking down at the dish
he sees the dish is shaped like a boat. A macaroni boat!

He could sail back to the old world
and stop all this new world sorrow at its source,
warn our parents clueless in their little towns
that they are going to make a terrible mistake.

A terrible mistake he pleads to the customers,
who lower their heads and smile.
The boy also eats baked macaroni,
an exotic dish in his household.

Don’t stare, his mother whispers                                                                                                       
as the man lifts his frayed overcoat
from the Automat floor. She pushes
the Macy’s bags closer to her legs.

She straightens the boy’s collar,
spits on her hand and presses
down his stubborn cowlick.
Be a big boy she reminds him.

Don’t stare at the poor sick man.
Be a mensch.
Clean your plate.


P.S. I Love You

In the Lennon-McCartney song,
the speaker, a young man
we believe, is penning a letter
to his sweetie. The lads must be on tour.
Perhaps they will come
to our town. He says little.
Treasure these few words,
he sings, ‘Till we’re together.
In his voice we sense
a bubble of youthful glee.
His reassurances intensify
as the song returns,
over and over,
to the same simple words.
Consider the you’s:
two in the first stanza,
four in the second,
nine in the final.
Love in every stanza.
His repetitions feel like a wish
he knows won’t be granted,
and he’s relieved to know this.
As she must be.
As we all must be, in truth,
feeling the mercy of distance
from those we would surely love
with all our hearts
if only we could.

In the Mercer--Jenkins song,
the speaker, a husband,
writes to his wife,
who is journeying somewhere.
Not a thing to write,
he writes, Not a thing to say.
But how often
has he written her to say nothing?
Is this merely a brief separation?
Perhaps she has taken a trip to sis,
who has just delivered twins
and could use a hand.
Perhaps Uncle Joe had a mild coronary
and Aunt Mary can’t do
as well as she used to.
For his sake, we want to think so.
Really, for ours as well.
He fills his letters with little things:
the weather, his bedtime,
the Browns, who came to call,
as dull as their names;
the hole he burned
in the dining room table.
Each detail is a painful avoidance,
a plea to accept  this circling around
as a declaration of his sincerity.
Six times he writes
P.S. I love you,
trying to convince himself,
and us, that these repetitions
will draw her home
come what may,
come all the distances
Love contrives.

Barry Seiler has published four books of poetry, three of them by University of Akron Press. He appears in the recent anthology New Voices: Contemporary Writers Confronting the Holocaust.  He lives on the outskirts of Roxbury NY with his wife Dian and cats Homer and Milton.


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