ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by J.R. Solonche


that I needed artificial tears
because my eyes were dry.
I don’t understand that. I’m
a poet. I cry a lot. I produce
copious amounts of tears, I
said. It’s not the quantity of
the tears that's important. It’s 
the quality of the tears, she 
said. I don’t understand that. 
Like I said, I’m a poet, and 
a poet’s tears are of the very
highest quality. There are no 
tears on earth better than the
tears of a poet, I said. I’m sure 
you’re right. But take these
samples, anyway. They have 
flaxseed oil and vitamin E, 
she said. That’s healthy and
filling, but man does not live
on flax and vitamin E alone.
Poets’ tears nourish the soul,
I said. She smiled. It was a
small smile. Whatever you say,
it said. She was right. I’m a 
poet. It is whatever I say. 



I have a friend who lives
on Barren Road. It’s a
shame he’s not a poet.
“It’s a shame you’re not
a poet,” I said. “Why’s
that?” he said. “Because
you live on Barren Road,”
I said. “So that’s why it’s
a shame I’m not a poet?”
he said. “Yeah. Consider
the irony,” I said. “I do.
I’ve been considering it
all the time since it really
was barren,” he said. “I’m
surprised at you. This is
the first time you said it’s 
a shame I’m not a poet.
Well, I think it’s a shame 
you are. A damn shame. 
What a waste of intelligence,”
he said. I understand.
He’s a sociologist.


Growing up I knew two Helens.
The first was Helen Green. Her
real name was Greenburg, but
her father changed it to Green.
He once wrote a letter to Hank
Greenburg castigating the great
ballplayer who was the frequent 
target of anti-Semitic taunts
from fans and other players for not
changing his name to something 
less Jewish. Helen lived in my 
building, but we weren’t friends. 
She was smart and went to Hunter 
High School. The other Helen was
Greek, Helen Kontos. She wasn’t
smart. We went to the same high 
school, but we weren’t friends
either because she was beautiful.
Helen Kontos was so beautiful
I didn’t have the nerve to say a
word to her. Besides, she was
going out with Ira Tartack, the
captain of the football team. Even 
though I thought that if there were 
anything worth getting beaten up 
for it would be Helen Kontos, I was
too much of a coward to fight for her.
Anyway, as I said, she was Greek,
which didn’t mean anything to me 
until Mr. Feinberg, our 12th grade 
English teacher had us read The Iliad. 
“The Trojan War was about a woman,” 
he told us. “A woman named Helen 
who was so beautiful her face launched 
a thousand ships.” It made perfect sense.
I got an “A” in that class, my only one. 
I never knew what became of Helen Kontos, 
the beautiful Greek Helen, but I’m quite 
sure she married Ira, had four or five kids, 
and got fat. I do know what happened to 
Helen Green, the smart Helen. She became
the District Attorney of Bronx County.


Nominated for the National Book Award, the Eric Hoffer Book Award, and nominated three times for the Pulitzer Prize, J.R. Solonche is the author of 36 books of poetry and coauthor of another. He lives in the Hudson Valley.
Books forthcoming in 2024: Reading Takuboku Ishikawa & Other Poems (Kelsay Books/Aldrich Editions), Old (Word Tech Communications/David Robert Books), and Then Morning (Shanti Publishing).


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