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 Shirley Kuo.


melancholia is such a loud color to paint

my lips are so used to sculpting around
the words i love you, but the words i need you
are coated in a fine layer of dust, tucked away
on the third shelf in my bedroom. she was the sort

of girl who fell asleep to unwritten eulogies, who found
expiration dates etched on the insides of her veins and believed in them.
i have not destroyed the stars, no matter how many rocks i've
hurled at them in the midst of bloodstained fury. they still remain

untouched, though the sky has bled countless times from
unheeded cuts and scratches. simply put, this city runs on
the blood of sinners and the breath of the weeping moon.



old habits die hard

my mother always pressed empty promises on my cuts
and scrapes when i was younger, believing they were able
to staunch the blood from seeping through. they were--for
a while, anyway. she'd rub weary kisses on my skin and
bandage her famous fibs around my wounds. you'll be okay.
i love you. the pain will go away soon. now, twenty-two years
later, i still turn my palms up as i am falling asleep like i am
trying to catch her blood-soaked lies. i have found that even
now, even after all the times i have peeled the skin from my
bones and left my carcass out to dry in the sun, i still discover

her scarlet lipstick stains printed on the hooks of my elbows
and the purse of my mouth; a stamp claiming property.
i am telling myself that the get well soon cards i send her
mean more than the wedding rings she'd previously worn,
five separate times, before flushing them down the toilet.
i am telling myself that not all shadows smear the curves of
smiles, i am telling myself that poison always tastes the worse
in the first bite, but i am finding that spoon feeding lies to yourself

is harder to swallow than when your mother does.



ladybug red

i have spent my whole life trying to tame the
wild waters and to feed the tigers that quietly prowl
the outskirts of the woods but maybe the mute
realizations come in moments not during the sunrise,
but before it. you attempt to make me put on "ladybug red"
lipstick and don your mother's fading pearls for eyes and
eyes and draw in a sharp breath when i silently emerge
with blood on my bottom lip and three cigarettes tucked in
my cleavage. i light one and exhale smoky rings at your
stony expression and wonder how any soul could kiss your
cracked knuckles. i used to think those weren't so different

from cracked lips, anyhow. i know better now.
you wake up the next morning and i have already left, leaving
a napkin smeared with the blood on my lip as a note.
maybe i used to also think that veins turned inside out were
the ideal place to grow a garden, i don't know. i was in love with
forget-me-nots and lilies then, the fool i was. i know better now.
that's where i have started to keep all the burnt stubs of
cigarettes on the sidewalks. not as an image, but a
warning against disillusionment. o, how the porcelain

heart works






Shirley tells us: "My name is Shirley Kuo, a sixteen-year-old poet currently residing in California. My work has previously been published by the Young Adult Review, Episodic, The Cuckoo Quarterly, American Athenaeum, Winter Tangerine Review, Hemingway's Playpen, and others. I am probably most well-known for being a disastrously picky eater but pretending otherwise."
We welcome her to Offcourse.






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