ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

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


Poems from a War Notebook, by Sarah White.


1859: The Empress’s Magenta Shawl

She wears it in honor

of Paris chemists
who invented the color
and named it in honor
of a great victory:

Red blood of infantry,
blue blood of cavalry,
mingled in honor
of the Emperor,
and flooded the fields
of Magenta, Italy.

A white horse
went purple,
and stumbled
in honor of
its martyred rider.



1914-18:  The Golden Virgin

watercolor by Sarah White

Watercolor by Sarah White.

In the town of Albert,
north of the Somme,                                        
a gilded statue, struck
by the earliest shells,
hangs sideways
from the basilica spire.

In April of the final year,
three friends look up from the square
marveling at the Madonna and Child
suspended so long in mid-air,
surely a sign!

         “See how Our Lady grasps her child,
holding on for dear life.”

          “I see a madwoman’s hands and arms
laying her son on the battlefield.” 

          “She is not mad. Her noble sacrifice
to the gods of war will buy us lasting peace."

Just then, the town explodes once more.

Gone are child, woman, spire,
square, friends, and signs.


1918: Apollinaire’s Steel Helmet

with a hole in it,
worn by the poet,
it was not, like other
helmets, heaped
and buried, some
with skulls in them,
and some without.

He sang
to the Eiffel Tower,
still new,
sang of modern poets,
banquets, gadgets,
sang of Lou, a lover,
and mortar
shells blooming
at the front.

Sweet France
gave him a name,
among his other names—
Sweet France, only one
of his homes.
He was all Europe
with its wounded brain
running out
through a jagged hole.



1915 Wedding Song  


I’m making my sister a gown.
She could have had mine,
never worn,
but she wanted one of her own.

                        The fiddle will play
                        and the cake be served
                        provided the groom comes home.

Sister and I together
are sewing another one
for Jenny the neighbor who swears
her man will return in time

                        for the fiddle to play
                        and the cake to be served.

But he comes home unable
to stand at the altar at all.
He cannot lift her little veil.
She’d be better off
if she married his dog.

                        The fiddler sleeps.
                        We fed the cake to the squirrels.

Any girl in town
can choose from three fine gowns
if only her man comes home
so sane and well 
                        that he lifts her veil
                        and the kiss goes on
                        all night and day to the tune
                        of the fiddler’s song.

Sarah White's recent book, Alice Ages and Ages (Blaze Vox, 2010) was reviewed in Offcourse #44 by Ricardo Nirenberg. She is also author of a poetry collection, Cleopatra Haunts the Hudson (Spuyten Duyvil, 2007), a chapbook, Mrs. Bliss and the Paper Spouses (Pudding House, 2007), and a lyric essay, The Poem Has Reasons: A Story of Far Love (online at She lives, writes, and paints in Manhattan. See her poems in Offcourse #44, "You mean you are allowed to do that?", "The Devastation of the Indies", in #45 "Nabokov Writes His Wife From Coker College" in #46, Victoria de los Angeles in Issue #48, Paris Notebook in #50 and "Introduction to Purgatory" in #52.
SW's next poetry collection, The Unknowing Muse is forthcoming from Dos Madres Press.

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