ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Three Poems by William Alton


Scars of Failure

I am the one standing in the doorways watching the shadows creep from west to east, long and dark, cooler than areas the sun lights.
Jays flare their wings and come to rest on the cedar branches stretched out like knobbed clubs beating the air.
People walk on the street, their voices rising like secrets whispered into deaf ears.

Oxy tingles through my hands with bad blood and I cannot seem to hold onto anything.

I wait for someone to come to my door and tell me that my life is a puzzle with pieces missing.
I try to put things together, but everything loses shape as soon as I touch it.
There are bones beneath my skin grinding together like pebbles in the ocean.

I am nearly dead now, but I will not call anyone.
It’s easier to wait here, with the sunlight and the shadows, with my cigarettes and pills.
Nurses and doctors look down on me.
Everyone looks down on me.
It’s the nature of people to poke the scars of failure as if they were reaching out sympathetically when, truthfully, they’re just glad they didn’t have to face it themselves.




People ask me, What happened there?
I make up stories for them.
That one, I say. Comes from my first wife.
She didn’t like me playing poker instead of rubbing her pregnant belly with butter.
This one, I say. Comes from my dealer.
He thought I should pay more for the dope.
We disagreed.
I don’t buy from him anymore.
What about the one on your back?
I don’t know. I must have backed into something.
The stories change but people never ask twice.
They take what I say and they go about their day thinking, maybe, that I’m tougher than I really am.



Slice of Time

Sunlight plays on the maple leaves, the leaves thrust into the sky like hands praying to the clouds.
Skaters grind their boards in the edges of the concrete ramps and platforms the city build for them a few years ago.
Mice hold court on the edge of the grass where the wetlands slip into the hollow at the bottom of the hill.
People learn new technologies at work.
They come to the park and buy Oxy at the picnic table under the trees.
They go home and swallow the numbness, the opiate weight before going to bed and dreaming swollen dreams.
Children fight their nap times, rushing around the swings, away from their mothers’ reaching hands.
We are the wind blowing through the valley pushing the rain into the mountains, leaving us dry and full of dust all summer long.
We are the ones watching the violence of loneliness.
We are the ones doing nothing while the light plays on our faces.


William L. Alton was born November 5, 1969 and started writing in the Eighties while incarcerated in a psychiatric prison. Since then his work has appeared in Main Channel Voices, World Audience and Breadcrumb Scabs among others. In 2010, he was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He has published one book titled Heroes of Silence. He earned both his BA and MFA in Creative Writing from Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon where he continues to live. You can find him at

Return to Offcourse Index.