ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Six Poems and a Collage by Joyce S. Brown.


Finding Grief In Rock Creek Cemetery

In a grotto by herself,
St. Gaudens’ Peace   Collage by Joyce Brown
sits heavily, her shroud
covering all but one hand
which rests on her cheek.
She is Grief, not Peace,
solitary, inward, her eyelids
lowered, the sadness palpable. 
No marker names poor
Clover Adams for whom
Peace stands. Beloved wife
of Henry, she was overcome
with private griefs, and took her life.
She’s buried here with him,
not far from Soldier’s Home,
where Mary Lincoln came
to sit in quiet with her grief
surrounded then by Union tents
and now by flocks of dead
grazing among stone angels
and recumbent marble lambs.



Sonnet in Tetrameter

Here is a man sick unto death,
estranged from himself and other beings.
Each morning he pauses, chooses a path
to begin his searchings. He ties a string
on a tree by his house so as not to lose
himself any further. He walks to the store
where he buys a paper and reads the news:
all those dead from earthquakes and war.
He can’t find himself there, but the sun is high;
it burns his skin and blurs his brain.
He’s sure he hears a baby’s cry
and the whistle of a distant train.
He has found enough for one more day--
enough to keep the wolves at bay.



As if a dog collected bones
to build another dog, I save
scraps of paper, pictures, ads,
to cut and paste on pages,

reconstituting life. I’m pulled
to things not in my ken—camels
for example, and things I couldn’t
do without, like windows.

Sometimes sorting through
my paper pieces, I’m surprised
to find the backside of some scene
turns out to be exactly what I need.

I throw away what’s too busy
or too dark. I play with photographs
of signs, rearrange the letters
as in a Scrabble game, hoping

to hit upon a word or two,
more yes than no, that might
make some sense of chance.



If I had another life to live,
I’d be a botanist and get
a doctorate in weeds.
My dissertation would
investigate what makes
a growing thing a flower
or a weed. Who decides?
A committee like the one
that votes on which new
words should be added
to the lexicon. Who
thought plants, like people,
should be ranked?
And why are dandelions
less desirable than grass?
Their greens and buds are edible.
The other’s only good for cattle.
Weeds flourish with no tending,
grow tall without the praise I need
to make me raise my head.



Story telling workshop

First, place your feet
squarely on the belly
of mother earth.
Lean back, rest on the chair,
the strength of your ancestors,
the universe.
Let the woodchip smoke
of untold tales float through
the crown of your head.
Open your hands
to receive a story.
Your spleen has one;
your thymus, your liver.
They have things to tell you.
Sit by the inner campfire
and listen to them.



Carpet Weed,

I’m sorry
you’re unwanted
by so many people.
I commend you
for thriving without water
this sweltering summer,
and for making the best
of many unfavorable
conditions. You spread
your lacy leaves
like crochet work,
all from a single
slender root which, yes,
I have pulled with my fingers
as the article suggests.
You give up so easily,
graciously, unlike
crab grass which
clings annoyingly
to its ground.  Someone
should reclassify.
The word ‘weed’
should not be a negative,
nor weeds considered less
than plants called flowers.
That said, you’ve chosen
the wrong place to live
here between the stones
on my terrace. Thank you
for letting go.


Joyce S. Brown's work has been published in Poetry, The American Scholar, The Tennessee Quarterly, The Potomac Review, The Maryland Poetry Review, Passager, Smartish Pace, Commonweal and other journals.
Her poems appear in Offcourse Issue #44.

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