ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by E.M. Schorb


“Coleridge did dope,” she said.
“So one day, when he was socked out,
dreaming up this poem about Xanadu,
along came this person from Porlock
on some business and shook him out of it.
After about an hour he couldn’t remember
anything but the first part of the poem. 
Has that ever happened to you?  I mean,
that poem of yours in the ‘American Scholar’
seems unfinished, you know?”  A very
finished young lady, and this is what
I get!  I give them some Biographia
Literaria, in a vague hope . . .
“Fancy and imagination!” I roar,
and point to someone else.
“Fancy is only memory and produces
only a sensational product.
Imagination transcends time and
makes contact with higher reality.”
Something occurs to me: “No,
I don’t do dope, and the poem
is finished because it says
what it started out to say
in the way it started out to say it.”
“I only meant, have you ever been
interrupted when you were writing
a poem, so that the unfinished part
transcends and makes contact with
a higher reality, like that one
in the ‘American Scholar’?”
And suddenly I realized how very quick
she was, and nice, and pretty too.   



Plow through the black snow
of the unforgiveable given
with a wedge-shaped will! 

Plow through and find
the bright future that touches
the forehead and the beating bosom. 

One heave of the heart and arrival! 
Such was the faith of the romantics. 
Arrival, but not at the ideal,

not at the goal, arrival
at the starting point,
the eternal dynamic, where

the self was found, for
the starting point is no fixed point,
but a metaphor, a figure. 

Sisyphus is the classic figure;
the rolling stone, romance. 



                                   Nothing to read?  Think!

 To the Guardian at the Gate

Happiness over my shoulder is a cloud of ink.
Destroyed again by the world last Monday, I
can no longer agree that the fault is mine
and not in my stars.  When the fault is yours
you can do something about it, take a course
in constancy or begin once again to build up your muscles.
You have to believe you can make life work on your own.
You have to believe in something, no matter how weird,
something to cure ill.  Nicholas Prevost of Tours,
1098:  “Antidotarum,” a collection of 2650
medical prescriptions from Salerno.  In the modern age,
the being and existence of things are determined
through comprehensibility, ascertained by us,
which amounts to saying that if we don’t understand it,
it isn’t.  So the bad stuff isn’t there because
I don’t understand why it has to be.  Happiness
over my shoulder turns back into a silken cloud,
which is either a way of saying that life
is what we make of it or that we are mad
as two unpaid fighting cocks with razor spurs
ripping ourselves apart for nothing but a bit of corn.
But if life is good, why are the feathers always flying?
To end on a high note, try hypnotizing yourself into hope.
Get that cloud of ink back down onto paper where it belongs.


II  Breathless; or, Overture to Hyperventilation   

You know how it is with daily life,
never enough time to do anything,
and especially never enough time for making love:
early rising rushing to exhaustion earning a living,
no food for thought, and especially no stimulating Ovidian oysters.
Lunch in a bag, maybe.  Make the bag big enough for your head
and save it, you’ll need it.  This is the overture to hyperventilation,
which leads to the loss of carbon dioxide from the blood.
1944:  Lewis Mumford: “The Condition of Man,” who
is understood as being thrown out of a state of security
and into a dark night of suffering where the world is lost to him
and back upon himself and forced to reflection, self-awakening,
and finally to authentic, breathless being,
as he climbs the stairs to his bedroom at night,
where his beloved awaits him like an opening rose.
471:  Aeschylus introduces a second actor.
But Arthur Miller says tragedy is impossible in our time.
Only drama.  It’s dramatic to lose your breath.
When you get it back, you laugh because you were so silly,
and life returns to comedy.  Mostly, life is comedy with gravitas,
universal, intergalactic comedy, but the mice on the mudball
are forced to take it seriously.  Ah breathless, breathless!
Kierkegaard possessed a certain sense of security,
but his way would mean church and no love on Sunday morning,
the only remaining opportunity.  Working people need a chance.
The Spanish close shop and take a two-hour siesta afternoons
but I wager don’t get much more than a catnap out of it.
And, Venus, when you rise naked before me on the half-shell
of our conch-colored couch, my heart goes into rapid fire,
for the time has finally come, as it will to the good and the patient,
and I gulp for breath at sight of you and breathe until I’m breathless.


III  Apologia

I’ve been told that I don’t take life seriously enough,
or, conversely, that I make a serious effort at skimming its surface,
that I’m content to be a generalist, the kind of roller-blader
who shies at summersaults, the runner who runs the marathon
to see the crowd, the kind of drinker who tries not to get drunk,
the kind of no-good clod who would call an activist an officious-
or, worse, a busybody, the kind of not-engaged guy who won’t march,
who looks out at the world through stained glass eyes
as if it were his 57th visit to the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Well, I can’t account for what others may think, but,
my apologia is, that, with the rest of the variously displaced modern
I’ve experienced a surfeit leading to confusion, have become ideophobic,
even a doubter of doubts, who wonders at times if the old oak tree is
     its phenomenology,
or its rugged trunk and russet autumn leaves that lend it its poetic dignity
and pictorial poetry:  for I think that our gravest thoughts are rooted
in buried and forgotten or half-forgotten metaphor, as in “the sun rises,”
rather than “the Earth goes down,” and that the corrupt text of our
     political language
is too obvious a deconstructivist challenge for an intelligent child.

Donne couldn’t have imagined that his hated “New Philosophy” would
      bring us
to a world of ephemerons and quarks,
nor that, scarcely out of the dark ages, his renaissance would lead to the
evils of the century we have just nearly struggled through.  No thanks,
     been there,
done that, it’s a lost cause.
The stately metaphorical summertime virescence of the next century
us.  Sure it does.


E.M. Schorb’s poems appear in the current issue of Mudfish and are forthcoming in Blue Unicorn and Chiron Review.   Previous work has appeared in The American Scholar, Agenda (UK), The Hudson Review, Oxford Poetry (UK), Queen’s Quarterly (CA), The Southern Review, Sewanee Review, and The Virginia Quarterly Review, among many others.

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