ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

A journal for poetry, criticism, reviews, stories and essays published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by Sarah White.

Three Seasons in a Tower


Fall, 1941

The child is proud
that her household
is dignified and sad.

A war the nation
hasn’t entered yet
has already drawn blood—
someone related,
someone Mother loved.

The proud girl
is five and can read.
She knows serious words
like governess, aspic,
and migraine.

She knows Maginot,
a line of soldiers
faced the wrong way—
Frederick, her cousin, among them.

Friends in first grade
ignore the war.
They invite her over.
She goes, but jokes are told,
games are played,
and she asks for a ride home.

In a book she has—
Tales from Japan—
an old man and woman
without any children
discover a baby
inside a peach.  It’s a boy.

He grows up to fight
a terrible battle on Ogre Island
and wins
with the help of a monkey.
When the Peach Child comes home
how happy they are!

The Maginot battle was lost.
Frederick was shot through the eye
though, if he’d had a monkey,
he might have been saved

and her family
would have been glad
Like people in stories.



Winter, 1944

Here is a secret—
she’d rather be proud
than glad.

The world feels real
when it’s sad
and a little cruel.

Schoolgirls have playtime.
Peach Boys have victory.
She has a father mortally ill
and a cousin
shot through the eye.

If friends
try to draw her
into their games,
they are enemies, really.

She agrees
with Pascal (or will
when she reads him)—

Diversion’s a sin.



Fall, 2009

Over the years,
enemies lure her down
from her proud, sad tower.

She develops a thirst
for games—puzzles at first,
then Scrabble and anagrams
(she thinks of Pascal
as she plays.)

She changes the letters
around but there’s always
a line of soldiers
faced the wrong way
and a proud girl
going upstairs to mourn.



The Cab Driver Says I Look like a Teacher

It must be the drab
down coat I wear, the hair
I neither color nor curl,

the eyes tinged
by inky quizzes,
or the frown lines

as if  the driver
were a writer
and I a character

a Freshman girl
reciting Verlaine

on her last morning
in the world—O Marion,
what have you done?— 

remembering Borges
coming to the campus,
the Dean

coming to my office
saying I had tenure.  Then
I thanked him knowing

no one would ever
make love to me again.

Sarah White photo

Sarah White is author of a poetry collection, Cleopatra Haunts the Hudson (Spuyten Duyvil, 2007), a chapbook, Mrs. Bliss and the Paper Spouses (Pudding House, 2007), a lyric essay, The Poem Has Reasons: A Story of Far Love (online at, and a collection of variations, Alice Ages and Ages, forthcoming from Blaze Vox. She lives, writes, and paints in Manhattan.

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