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 Hannah O'Grady

The Wash

Pull in your clothes, Chicago
Draw in the line, out to dry.
Not for the dust,
The mills cover their mouths when they cough, now.
Not for the crooks,
They don’t want your tablecloths or pantyhose.
Nor for the stray baseballs;
They gather on your roof,
Where the marble-maze ends.
But everything is dry now, after all,
And a grey sky only pledges rain.



My roommate is gone for the weekend so
She left me her penknife, the one she usually wears on a gold-colored chain
Around her neck.
She won’t need it where she’s going,
Which is to her aunt’s goat farm in Washington,

Where I can imagine the bucolic clouds of fluff and red meat
Tumbling over those wooly mountains of Spokane.
(How much moss does a rolling goat gather?)

The roommate says,
Baby goats are tottering along and butting their heads and
Probably filling out 401(k)s just twenty-four hours after birth.
What were you doing twenty-four hours after you were born?

Not much.

My parents gave me a penknife when I was six years old
(What were they thinking?)
At any rate, I never gave myself or anyone else
Any serious injuries. Cross my heart.
I lost the thing, in fact.

We had a game called “O’Grady’s Goat” at home.
It’s got eighty-nine strips of paper and you’re supposed to match them all up or something
But we never could learn how because it was printed in 1895 in Springfield, Mass.
And all the pages crumble to bits when you pick them up.

Which may be the problem with history, come to think of it.
(The crumbliness, I mean)
So that all you can really do with the wars and marches and last Sunday’s leftovers
Is to feed it all
Into a great pot of foliage and glue
And churn it out again in columns of chicken scratch.
The children wash it down with their milk.

Does the rule about guns and plays apply to knives and poems, too?
You can’t make history out of little bits of brown paper,
And you can’t make a wool coat out of them either.
I hope my roommate knows that,
And that it’s not too cold out there in the Northwest corner,
So she doesn’t need her penknife for shearing.



Baila checks the eggs for signs of life, shifting the yolk between calcium cups. The clear clings for a moment each time before sliding away. You must be vigilant, because Jews can’t eat blood, or something like that. You have a hard time remembering the rules. You’ve learned how to weave slabs of dough, though, into a braid which holds together long enough to get to the oven, where the heat will fuse it together, expanding into gold. You like to knead because the flour and water fill in the gaps between fingers, forming four new ones on each hand. How long until they’ll squeeze back?

You have a friend who tells facts about whales at parties. Whenever you begin to forget all the things there are to talk about with people you say, hey, Isabelle, talk about the whales. But keeps telling you we’re killing them; the charcoal-bellied beasts are rushing again and again into our nets, crucifying themselves. The Catholics tell you, you can’t just be half, and the Jews say there’s no way to let out the blood. The sun sinks like half-closing eyes, sighing into the pavement. It will rise the same way.


Why Not to Help Your Significant Other Assemble Her Ikea Furniture

You helped me build the bed
Although you said you were afraid
I’d leave you when it was done,
Having no more use for
Your extra pillow or heart.

Red pooled on my windowsill
As we tried to figure out what to do with the pieces
Of White Birch—that’s what the catalog said they were,
Though in my hands they felt too smooth for wood—
That slept on the floor.
The floor seemed to say to the bed-pieces, “Pull yourself together and get up off of me.”

It took us a long time to find a hammer,
And we tried to use lot of other things instead, like the can of kidney beans
Which sat in my room for three weeks before I restored it, dented, to the pantry,

But we did a good job in the end and the bed works pretty well,
Except for its tendency to sound like it’s going to break.
Which I suspect was part of your plan, so that I wouldn’t sleep too soundly,
That the creaks might remind me of you.

As it turns out I quite like the creaking,
Perhaps for the way it reminds me
Of a Cedar-smelling boxcar shivering into the night,
Like the open space I find when I spread my arms out against the sheets,
Like the way into morning.

Hannah O'Grady is originally from New York City and currently studying English at The University of Chicago. This is her first appearance in Offcourse.

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