offcourse logo



Poems by Robert W. Greene.





This way of walking can accost you anywhere, like when you cross the stage at graduation. The sudden gaucheness, the broken pace, as if you were on stilts, stops the beat cold.



I am hoofing it to our mechanic's garage to pick up the car, when the old malaise with my gait strikes. Am I moving too fast? Too slow? Am I pitched too far forward? Will the road rise up to meet me, the Irish blessing turned all too real? Beckett comes to my rescue: You must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on.



Nowadays we drive everywhere, so I don't know this pavement the way I came to know the concrete and asphalt of my childhood, up through racing sneakers. When I was a kid, we hiked our way to school, to the movies. We thumbed rides to the quarries for a swim, to the links to earn pocket money from caddying. A buck and quarter for three hours of lugging a bag of clubs around the course, then home.



Before every track meet, our coach reminded the distance runners that, to win, they had to hit their stride early and hold it past the finish.



The first time my father left Donegal for Glasgow in search of work, he tramped for hours in the Scottish rain, long past dusk, until he won a place lugging sacks of sugar on a factory floor.



Our children stumble off the stage at graduation, keep on going and scatter in the twilight.



Trudging to the parking lot in the rain, ten steps before I do, my legs know which one of them will take the lead in the scissors kick over the steel cable that winds around the lot.



Valéry claimed that his "Graveyard by the Sea," his rumination on motion and stillness, sprang from the pavement, his marching boots drumming decasyllables, which then filled up with words.



Giacometti's "Walking Man" and "Falling Man" slouch toward their own vanishing point, as if they hit their stride too late to win, to hold their shape against extinction's pull.



Thoughts of our tuned-up car keep me going.







The way you'll go is not for you to know,
you say, you'll wait it out by squads.


Back and forth between those end zones,
you're never out of breath along the Ave
between Sparta's Urn and Dolan's Tavern.


For coffee and cakes on Sunday after Mass
or another round of ale on Friday nights,
a good half-mile jog either way you go.


(It's summer 1951. Korea's been overrun.
You're all draft bait. Join the Navy
or the Air Force. Or flunk the physical.
Or day-hop to college with a deferment.)


The Axis sacked your childhood, held your
cousins hostage for the War's duration.


They must have known they'd all go down
Olympic-style, laurel wreath in the coffin.
So you crack wise along the tavern's saw-
dust-anchored bar, but Dolan doesn't ask to
see I.D. Like a track meet starter, he
holds the way you'll go close to his vest.






It's your everyday genre painting.


First look. Slanting down out of the upper left quadrant, traversing a window pane located at mid-canvas, prodigal, uniform shafts of light, waited for all afternoon, invade the lower right quadrant, where they describe a bundle of acute angles with the horizontal front edge of an overloaded sink. A stark vertical form partly obscures the sink.


Next look. Falling, as always, in slow motion, like a skydiver suited up in flames, the setting sun has dropped into the clear between the tree canopy and a neighbor's rooftop. Its dazzle, shooting through the kitchen window from the left, lights up a lone figure seen in profile. Spun westward a full sixty degrees, but shielded from throat to shins by a luminous white apron, the form, post-penguin in its effect, stares back at the circadian bonfire dying out.


Next look. A different, perhaps earlier figure (the other's late mother?) now emerges. Wrapped in a flowing pinafore snugged at nape and waist, it looks off, past a mound of supper dishes, toward the day's strategic, flamboyant withdrawal.


Last look. Maybe it's an Ur-drama. Twilight clashes with human agency. The entropic contests the quotidian. It's taking forever to end as expected.