ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by Louis Gallo


I have suddenly forgotten what words
like desultory and lapidary and permutation mean.
Has this happened to you?  In mid-thought
or as your read a phrase or hear it intoned
by some blanched man in a tuxedo, words
you know intimately, the way you know
what pairs of socks are heaped in your drawer,
which spoon has the gouge that will shred
your tongue?
I suspect a beginning of sorts, the sprinter’s block
stretching toward a distant aphasic smudge
to ashen the finales.  Aphasic?
Some insist it’s best to forget the excrescences.
Finale, though, ah . . . cream drizzling from a light bulb,
electromagnetic milk, blotched by a few dark lapses,
chunks of loose retina in a field of vision.
Until the bulb rattles and burns out.



It’s happened again—
a fistful or words I once knew so intimately
that they glided from my tongue
(mixed metaphor, so what?)
as if kissing my lips on the way out:
hypotenuse, allele, entelechy, glossolalia,
diphthong, Akkadian, wainscotting . . .
all mist now in the grand Cloud
of Unknowing, a relief if you want to know,
a divestment, release from the prison house
of language that constructs a world
so constricted we miss essences
and mistake signifiers for the ambrosia
just out of reach, the ding an sich,
what our dogs (wordless) know by scent,
taste and sound, and the birds
and probably the grass and flowers.
Imagine knowing everything that way,
without mediation, outside the binds
and boundaries of a lexicon—
no abstractions, no lies, no shrinkage!
Not the Word made flesh
But the flesh-made word,
Logos unbound, alphabet soup—
A, B, C de daisies? --
oceanic omniscience.
Oops, just forgot another one:



After a painting by Ivan Albright

I’m thinking I should not be thinking
thoughts that veer off into dark cul-de-sacs,
twisted dead ends, rhizomes of deceit
and defection, labyrinths of regret and woe.

I should attune my ears to the click
of the thermostat and bathe in the soothing hum
of its furnace blower, the silence of the moon,
the distant chug of a car climbing up the hill.

I should not do what I’m doing—
indulging the greedy ferocity of the past,
its rosin that loosens dry violin strings
and the stalagmites of plucked privileges,
those cupcakes and slick wish bones.

I should not write another word.
In the beginning was the Word.
I should steer my pirogue into a zone
before the beginning.  That kingdom.

Nothing left in these ruins
but this ash of time
I scoop with brittle fingers,
flick away and watch burst
into nothing.
So much commotion, travail,
joy and misery . . .
when we waltzed slowly
in the crater and I kissed
your sultry lips, all that
and so much more,
when you went crazy and
looked more beautiful than ever,
when I failed and you
suckled me back to life
and we blended as one.
So, sweetheart,
I should have preserved
that ash for you,
for you to savor,
for you to let go.
I had no rights in the matter.
My gold tooth hums
to ancient frequencies.
Telegraphers in Des Moines
pound signals of distress.
The armed guard peers with suspicion.
Someone shoots the pictures.
Flashes squirm through my flesh
like pitchforks.

I collapse on a stone bench
to recover.
An old jaundiced rabbi
places a wreath upon my chest
and backs away slowly, chanting.
The room grows ancient and dark
like petroleum under Asia.
When I open my eyes
the wreath has disintegrated.
It is late.  The museum has vanished.
Only the door survives.
Before I touch its handle,
before I gather my breath,
it creaks open with the weight
of everyone passing through.



What awaits is the veer of the lever and wheel
When the hands cross at midnight and noon, and the future
Sweeps on with a sigh . . .
--George Barker

I am, whispered the mote, and
instantly wasn’t—
I thus am not, it crooned to the piebald stars
which blinked and fizzled out
like shoo-shoos.

I am and am not it lullabied
to the not yet born who all gasped
in their potentia and scintillated
into a collective mist, howling
silently at their own impossibility.

I was, it ventured on, backwards,
an iota in eternity, an eye-blink,
a grace note and cushiony nuance . . .

Remember me as I shall be
or might have been –
an interstice in the tapestry.



We have heard much lately
of the F-word, the L-word,
the N-word, the whatever word
so let me reintroduce to you
the original Word, Light
made Word, Word made Flesh,
in the beginning was the Word,
a gnostic petite four if you thrive
among brambles in a dusty
ancient cave, or, the lost papyrus
of the Book of St. Holocaust,
or, cast your eye heavenward,
a silent cacophony of photons
not yet fried as Word
but waiting, waiting
for Mega-Chef to turn on
the stove, scrambled or
sunny side up? paralyze
all the Light in a Word
that glows but sometimes
doesn’t glow, a Word you
either choke on or swallow
like water. Either way,
every-letter-of-the-alphabet word
is here to stay until they all dissolve
back to Light and that Light
seeps back into the primal egg
of darkness . . . because
in the beginning darkness,
not light, glowed brightest.

Feel free to relieve me of one or two,
Head for the kitchen, fire up the stove
and slide the right pot onto a burner.
Jot down the recipe for when I backtrack,
if ever I do . . . I’ll be famished.

Key West was never in the cards, pale Ramon,
Nor El Dorado, nor Byzantium.
I did not see Lazarus rise and come forth.
I saw a placard on the cave:
All hope abandon ye who enter here.
So I’m mired in Major Arcana for a while
just south of Barataria, Louisiana,
the Fool and Hanged Man steady at my side.
Enough guano to fear the island may explode,
but ok at the café—shrimp po-boys,
Dixie beer, old Hank Williams on the juke.
Sometimes you just take whatever you can get
and wear blinders. I did not see Lazarus rise
and come forth, did you?  How I miss
Dolly’s pastry shack on Monkey Hill
And those sweet raspberry swirls. 



I wrapped the MIA bumper sticker across my chest,
and, like Lao Tzu of old, trekked out of the zone
into howling terra incognita--anything preferable
to stasis in the status, anything, so forgive
the albatrosses hanging from my neck.
The ancient mariner told me once they
make a robust albatross chowder.

In medias res, the point of Icarus falling.
Just happens with no signification,
no justification, no appeals to reason.
People out there mowing grass,
scouring outhouses, gassing up the car
as you petrify or liquify or worse.
Hard to imagine worse but you must
if only of that momentary epiphany.
The present moment lasts roughly
200 or so milliseconds give or take.
Render it sublime or risk subsumption
in all that dark matter and energy—
neither of which bestows any mercy.
Slurp another raspberry swirl,
peck  the ashes on Dolly’s forehead,
trash the albatrosses.



My daughters asked me if I would return,
if I could, to my childhood and revisit
my grandmother’s shed, the one we had converted
into a playhouse, with its toasty gas heater
and a basketball hoop and the Gilbert chemistry set—
I said, of course, but does that mean giving up you two?
yes, they said.  Then, NO, I said.

They asked would I return but they would still be here.
I asked, you mean at the ages you are now
whereas I would become a child again.  Yes, they said.
Which means, I said, you would be older than me?
Yes, they said.  No, I said.  Then I would become
Your child.  I like you as you are.

They asked if I would return but they would return as well
with me.  How could that be, I asked, you would not
have been born yet.  They said, well, suppose we all
returned as children and could be playmates?
No, I said.  You are my daughters, not my playmates
even if sometimes we play together.  That’s different.

Suppose we didn’t exist.  Would you return then?
they asked.  But you do exist, I said.
But supposed we didn’t, they said.  Would you?
Well, I said, maybe . . . and they frowned,
you’d rather we didn’t exist?  I can’t imagine
you don’t exist, so, no impossible.
No return for me.

Where were you before you were born?  I asked.
Oh, the younger one howled, I hate that question.
Why? I asked.  Because I was always here, she said,
with you.  But . . . I said.  You know that can’t be.
Yes, she cried, I was always here.  We all were.
But . . . I didn’t say.  I know, we were all always here.
But would you return if—she said.
No, I said, I will never return to my grandmother’s shed
with its toasty gas heater and basketball hoop
and Gilbert chemistry set.  Are you happy now?

No, they both said.  Because you want to—
and that counts.  You hate us.
I love you, I said, and you know that.
You’re the only reason I’m staying here
(though, of course, that’s only partially true.
We all know you can’t go home again, ever,
for any reason, much less love, much less
desire, much less the crippling universe as it is.)


Nostalgie de la Boue

History is the myth that skeletons make
                                    --Matt Prater

I’m sinking fast through eonic strata
between a glistening, beeswaxed surface
veneer (which is now) and rock bottom
(then/origin), a kind of dangled
suspension in primal remembrance,
the infant’s tabula rasa or souls stranded
in drafty bardos awaiting rebirth.

I stagger into La Casa de los Marinos,
squeeze through a throng of drunks
cracking each other’s skulls open
with Dixie bottles—attar of patchouli
sweetening the stench of the dead
or a crown of bleeding thorns.

Thereupon, I abscond to slurp
raspberry meringue at Dolly’s
Pastry Shack on Monkey Hill
offside a defunct rhubarb plantation.

This yo-yoimg of plenum and vacuum,
pleasure and pain, apex and nadir,
Eros and Thanatos. . .
turtles all the way up, all the way down.

Could be we can never attain
the mythic thing-in-itself (ding an sich)
because we have hoisted nomenclature
between us and it (them?)

Peanut the Squirrel sniffs, secures the acorn—
without thinking “acorn”—stores it away
not thinking “nest” or “secures.”
Honeybee doesn’t think “nectar”
as it siphons it from blooming red tips.
We think “honeybee” & “nectar,” “red tips”—
translating essence into second-hand lexis.
And this, we think, is wise.
“Wise,” too, a word we deem we are.

I have forgotten what desultory means
along with entelechy and abnegation.
Words survive those who coined
or understood them: Madam I’m Adam)—
Aristotle is a skeleton, entelechy lives on
until it too goes extinct with the tribe.
Get thee to a refuse heap, thou sluggard--
Boutique de la boue, your steadfast buoy.

The Gaelic word for grievous homesickness
and longing for the past is hireath,
with stress on grievous—
not the usual, everyday missing Mom & Pop
and your pooch Peaches, no hello & shalom,
no ave atque vale, no where y’at, no see ya . . .
this is sickness unto death, no mere sniffles
while leafing through the family album--
you now aren’t you, you’re a vestige,
a remnant, a shell, a hangnail of what once
you were, Mom & Pop departed, Peaches,
lost at sea. the entire past a global bone yard.
The ghosts are wailing in Wales, in Tibet,
Mesopotamia, Assyria, Barataria, they wail
throughout the universe, in dark matter
& black holes, dirge of the spheres,
yearning for the mercy of transfiguration.
And I only am escaped alone to tell thee . . .
Except I am not alone. We are legion.

And if the body is not the soul, what is the soul?
We sat on the floor one night,
our backs against the wall of an empty classroom
in Arts & Science where hours before
we had listened to a Shelleyan professor
with flashing eyes and floating hair, lecture
on the Sublime of Longinus. We cuddled and spooned
in that classroom, the sublime transubstantiated
into lips . . .  splendor on the floor.
We grew stone stiff as a watchman jiggled
the doorknob and aimed his flashlight
through the glass. The shaft missed us.
We were low down, out of sight.
The next night, fearing guards or police,
we lay on a mound of hay in the university greenhouse,
risking everything when spirit incarnates
as flesh, as meaty spirit, delving into
organs and bones and blood
to siphon the sweetest sublime?


Seven volumes of Louis Gallo’s poetry, Archaeology, Scherzo Furiant, Crash, Clearing the Attic, Ghostly Demarcation & The Pandemic Papers, Why is there Something Rather than Nothing? and Leeway & Advent. His work appears in Best Short Fiction 2020. A novella, “The Art Deco Lung,” appears in Storylandia. National Public Radio aired a reading and discussion of his poetry on its “With Good Reason” series (December 2020). His work has appeared or will shortly appear in Wide Awake in the Pelican State (LSU anthology), Southern Literary Review, Fiction Fix, Glimmer Train, Hollins Critic, Rattle, Southern Quarterly, Litro, New Orleans Review, Xavier Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Missouri Review, Mississippi Review, Texas Review, Utopia Science Fiction Magazine, Baltimore Review, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, The Ledge, storySouth,  Houston Literary Review, Tampa Review, Raving Dove, The Journal (Ohio), Greensboro Review, and many others. Chapbooks include The Truth Changes, The Abomination of Fascination, Status Updates and The Ten Most Important Questions of the Twentieth Century. He is the founding editor of the now defunct journals, The Barataria Review and Books: A New Orleans Review. His work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize several times. He is the recipient of NEA grants for fiction and Poets in the Schools. He teaches at Radford University in Radford, Virginia. He is a native of New Orleans.

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