ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

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


New from Timewave Zero and Photos by Rebecca Lu Kiernan.


The War Room

painting by R Kiernan

One last kiss you taste
Like arrowroot, clove,
Apricot and fire,
Militant calm disaster.
Nuclear launch codes are confirmed.
Our keys are inserted.
Could I shoot you and end this outcome?
Elsewhen that variation has unfurled.
I wish the asteroid would come sooner
To erase us.
Blessed be that this event
Be not trembling between our fingers.
Perhaps the key to my destruction
Is not also the key to yours.
What a clever fail-safe that would be!
You could shoot me.
But there is someone in line
To turn your key and mine.
Our posts are too far apart to kiss.
The designer thought of this!
I knew it would end up this way,
The day after the interrogation
And psychological tests,
You asked, cradling a brandy glass,
"Could you really do it?"
I sighed,
Sprinkling blueberries into pancake batter,
"It is not my job to think."
We kissed, we cried, we did not blink.

You hand over
Your only key to our home.
How is it possible our fingers do not touch?
You stumble past me
Bumping the buttercream walls
With your bullet-proof suitcases,
Opening our hyacinth-wreathed door,
Zig-zagging into nuclear winter
Without negotiation,
A coat,
Or a splinter.


The Safe House

pic by R. KiernanThis house of lunar rock and willow bark
Sounds like trap-wounded wolfsong in the dark,
Tastes like unfiltered hornet honey,
Smells like burnt leaves, counterfeit money.

This house of mood-stone floor and stained glass
Says footprints fade and sharp grudges pass.
Is love a chess game, minefield, trapeze, a tether?
Have you a jacket for apocalypse weather?



Glaciers Come Slowly?

pic by R.KiernanA silence, a bird being crushed
From the clairvoyant violet sky.
The mind breaks the body awake
From a falling dream.

Numb kiss, grey breath, swollen fingers
Shake years of snow
From the lover's imposterous plaid coat.

Glaciers come slowly?

What invites an Age of Ice?
The ash of a nuclear holocaust?
Asteroid with non-negotiable math?

Less and less information,
You will find
Can be harbored
In the crooked wires of the mind
As systems, sputtering with denial
Are shutting down.
What is misplaced?
A map of Qatar, key to the safe-house,
A dead dog's collar.



7 Signs You Might Be a Poet's Muse

pic by R. KiernanYou exist because I scrimshaw your name
Into the blast-fractured Chokeberry tree
With a wolf's fang,
And program my robots
To dispose of the poison sap
Before it bleeds
Into our conversant garden
Of snowdragon, shamrock, amaranth.

You return safely to Earth
Because I scratch out alien stars
And rearrange them,
Bend the complicit fabric
Of space and time
With an arrogant smile
When you spin
Galaxies offcourse.

You love because I leave shark teeth,
Volcano ash, nuclear launch codes
Under your tie-dyed pillow.

You are an addict
Because you are at risk
Of becoming poetry
Every time you are inside me.

You feel cuckolded by every word I wrote before we met.

You survive because I deflect the asteroid
With the muscles of my tongue,
Unravel the war with an untranslatable whisper,
In the angelic octave that entrances

You are sorry
You tore my red fishnet stocking
With your teeth,
Fainted when you came,
Concussed yourself on the ceiling fan
And were so artfully framed,
You woke up on Death Row
For drowning a mermaid.

What alibi am I?

What tamarisk tea
Will crush your immortal regret?
A day without a thought of me?
It hasn't happened yet!



The Melting Pot

pic by R. KiernanDare you ring the tungsten bell and blink away
To the lost world's spark in the plum-grey sky.
Dare you melt the tantalum we mined on Mars.
Into a necklace in the shape of a heartleaf vine.
What fuel fed the flame to 5463?
I speak fahrenheit, you say celsius.
What alien conversion will marry us?
Our imposturous spy coats are useless. 
What amaranth and wolf-kiss orchids have you brought
To wilt my novice faith at the melting pot?



Attention, Earthling

Secret Garden pic by R. KiernanThis terrestrial artifact,
A sun-bleached hue of plum,
Bullet-proof and water-resistant
To seven fathoms,
Claw-marks from
A disenchanted tiger.
Oh, I was an exposed target,
Cyanide pill in a locket,
Potassium iodide
In my raincoat pocket.
Ah, your respectable attempts
At hypnosis.
I laugh at your luck,
Only you
Would attempt to recruit
A chrononaut.
Your moves are glacial,
I have,
For longer than I care to confess,
Outfoxed the speed of light.
The platinum aperture invites me.
Clairvoyance reminds me
I dare not contaminate my world
With the hazards of yours.
I dial my code against the case.
It flips open.
All my tools of covert operation
Spill into the starving, brown
Radioactive grass
Like an asteroid leaves tektite
On the strewn-field.
But, your gift?
I spray one drop of your cologne,
Close my eyes, I am Home.



Beyond This Equation

pic by R. KiernanI keep my cannibalistic rituals
And hostile artifacts from the alien.
The alien keeps unimaginable technology,
Inevitable events from me.
Our shared secret is a sentient being.
Darling, five secrets if you are counting.

A thousand featherweight light years away,
Sleek fingers through the labyrinth of my mind
Running every possible equation.
Sublime intelligence will not find
The solution.

I wear withered, blue-leafed vines from your past,
A criminal smile from your treacherous future.
A ghost dilates the ship's door.
Even time is no secret anymore.

[Full disclosure on "Beyond This Equation": I took Robert A Heinlein's visionary sentence: "The door dilated." from his 1939 story, "Beyond This Horizon".  And yes, I am aware that "Beyond" stops addressing the reader and begins addressing the alien. Or, does it? Deeply and Darkly,


The Sixth Extinction

pic by R. KiernanA split second
Or eons
After the Sixth Extinction,
The auroral green-edged pinks
And lava-esque tangerines
Took away
What I thought of as my breath,
What I thought of as the sky.
(Has the world exploded, or have I?) 
I could not seperate
What I thought of as my eyes
From the fuschia rainscape.
No mother, no father,
No faithful dog.
(Don't the dead come greeting?)
I searched for you.
You died in my arms,
Kept me calm.
"Look for me on the other side."
I do not think I am going
I find ways to pass
What is not even time.
Wearing your robe until you came home,
Finding the shoebox
Of every card, note
And grocery list
I ever gave you,
The kiss by Willow Lake
That was neither chaos, nor fate,
But three seconds' proof of God.
(You must be alone somewhere too.)
Perhaps what you think of as your mind
Is also pushing play and rewind.
When all is said and done
Starless in the memory
Of one's home constellation,
What survives?
Psychologists say memory
Is just a story
We keep changing to ourselves
You kissed me and we laughed.
Perhaps it was just a gallery lithograph
That once I saw
Lovers parting at a train
That runs into being strangers again.



pic by R.KiernanDarkness swallows. Cannibals drum.
Stars forgive. Angels hum.
Lilies wilt against the lie.
Wolf thinks he can scratch the sky.
Clawmarks vandalize the moon.
Don't miss you, won't be home soon.

Rebecca Lu Kiernan is a frequent contributor to Offcourse. See her bio notes.

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