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 Renae Keep.



(After Blas de Otero)

I believe in the culinary arts. I have seen
institutional kitchens packed with appliances,
shelled shrimp fortifying yellow jackets.
I have tasted their stings.

I believe in the sartorial arts. I have seen
my young daughter dissolve into a slurry:
the effort to suit herself. Human trappings—
I have buttoned, zipped and belted toddler jeans.

I believe in the matrimonial arts. I have walked
paved arroyos between windows webbed by moonlight
smelled their faded algal panes
kicked empty chip bags
and prayed the waters rise again.




What hath God wrought!
-Numbers 23:23, King James Bible

‘Drat,’ we learned, was contracted
‘God wrought,’ as in ‘What hath –’
the words first tapped by Samuel Morse
to Alfred Vail in Baltimore.
First we listen, then we learn:
first ‘drat’ seethed with insect life,
and then, as from a forehead dryly sprung,
‘drat’ begat divinity. It is 1844.

As the code, decoded, leads to Numbers,
we gaze into the Book Supreme,
see its court rooms held aloft.
Vow not to witness little Annie,
half-raised by dots and dashes,
lingering there at Morse’s elbow,
not to swear bluely at our staggered flight
from an old ill-buggering god.

‘Drat’ divined: rotten at the stem.
What hath God wrought?
Count us few for whom that passage
(set God’s strength beside the unicorn’s)
constitutes a sole deceit.
From behind our fluttering pages,
we throw side-long looks at Liza
drawing angels with a crooked fist.



Cow Magnet

My friend’s father Hank at Christmas Eve
expounds the Eucharist:
divine Logos incarnates base Matter.
He orchestrates with a turkey-baster and a t-bone steak,
conducting iconic Nikes and Chevrons
through blazes flared by grease.

I’m impressed, but when Hank’s at the sink,
I offer my friend a chance to weigh
my cow magnet: a reusable chrome capsule,
capable of erasing recorded time, but designed
to glide through a cow’s several stomachs
gathering metal flakes common to cattle feed.

Hank rings the ice cream bell.
The cow magnet slips back in my pocket.
Its pendent business offends my friend.
Butterscotch sundaes as we giggle
at her father’s religiosity, and roundly declare
a Scrabble match before bed.



Legal tender

Thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother's milk.
-Exodus, 23:19, King James Bible

Grant me this:
a proposition's got to float.
If the kid can swim,
so much the better,
though a candid sea
may lap its limbs, and melt
its ligaments.

This seething kids
is nothing new:
it’s mother’s milk we speak.
A vexed propagation,
like an omelet’s broken eggs,
yet regular as rent.

Now every scholar knows
whatever can evaporates
and the gut of a goat
yields a slender periphrastic.
But that kid might be the billy-
club busted papa’s finger;
or, if tender,
some lesser legal cord,
from grammar’s elegant

Renae Keep presently inhabits the foothills of the Northern Californian Santa Cruz Mountains where one of her poems recently won "Best of Show" at a local county fair (Renae loves county fairs, but a county fair with poetry? Irresistible!). Her poems have been published in Synapse and SHARK REEF. Others are forthcoming in the national edition of red wheelbarrow. This is her first appearance in Offcourse.

Return to Offcourse Index.