ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Three Poems by Janet Buck


Broken Pipes

Cleaning out your dresser drawers,
I draw a breath and hold
the smell of mothballs in.
Bile rises in my throat
as I run to the toilet to vomit and sob.
Tears come out like water does
when icy winters crack a pipe.
I take a dozen sweaters home
to search for the seams of the sonnet you were.

These are runes of boundless love
when a daughter worships her father's shoes
but never quite grows into them.
When that woman you married
shrunk your cashmere socks one day,
I rescued them from the trash,
then sewed pajamas for my dolls.
You were the map I used to find
the address of morality.

Two weeks, six days, three hours ago,
a stranger pronounced you dead.
That moment I lost my portrait of God.
My sister has your ashes resting
somewhere in her stately home.
To meet your wishes, we'll wait until dark,
then scatter some grains in the bunker
beside the 16th hole.
We promised you we'd break the rules.

I'll trade her my inheritance
for a teaspoon of that precious sand.
If the gift of a wind comes from the south,
and some of the ashes roost on my clothes,
I'll never wash them again.
No matter how hard I pound these keys
to face the truth of losing you,
all my heart can handle now
is the thought that you're taking a nap.



Mourning Bells

    In Memory of Robert Hoem Buck

It's nine days away from your death
and here I am, sleep-deprived,
angry at fate, stuck inside the images
of strangers zipping a thick black bag
up your body and over your face.
Mourning bells this afternoon
are louder than trains
rumbling long rusty tracks.


Weak as dry poinsettia leaves
landing on some tabletop, I doubted
I could ever dip just one small toe
in the water of another poem.
You wouldn't want me up all night
staring in the bathroom mirror
in search of a trace of your smile.
You wouldn't want me sobbing rivers
running through a canyon's ditch.

I'm sure your wife said some kind words,
but all I recall is the baseball bat
of her hostile voice:
"Get that body out of my bed."
Quietly, I thanked some god
for shutting the doors of your ears.
I stroked your hand,
silky and pale as a lily in bloom,
reaching for anything soft
to counterpoint the asperous truth.

I'm keeping the sweater
we bought you for a birthday gift.
I shrunk it in a hot, hot dryer
to layer my skin against
the arctic years ahead.
Every memory of you I own
will be the archipelago
of all that is right
in a world divided by wrongs.



A Love Poem to My Father

As the plane lifts off,
I drop my head on your shoulder,
involve my ear in the conch of your dwindling bones.
Emotion is a quiet chessboard
matching its squares to the desert below.
You are here to carry my crutches,
take me to dinner, sit at my side
while they struggle to build me another leg.
Because of you, I've never walked this road alone.

I fear my pain is in your face.
You have given up weeks
of perfect weather for golf
and all the comforts of home.
I whisper a question or two
about what it was like
to raise a crippled child like me.
You hide the burden I've been —
together with your sacrifice —
like most men closet their gravest sins.

I won't be writing this week.
My only desire — immersion in us—
a symmetry of adoration
no artist could sculpt or paint.
At the laughable age of 49,
I have a bad, bad case of Daddy's girl.
I always have and always will
tally my worth in the globes of your eyes.
Tell me it's wrong to worship a man,
and I shall argue 'til my death.
There aren't enough trees
to press into paper, to make into poems,
to put into books, to measure my pride in who you are
and how you reverse the ills of this earth.


See Janet Buck's bio notes.

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