ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

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


Two Poems by Bob Stout


Her Grandfather’s Attic

Nose covered with a surgical mask
she swabbed away the years of dust,
squinted at names and numbers scribbled
on the boxes. A little album tied with ribbon
opened to a sheaf of photographs
and there was grandma, round-faced and young,
hair pulled back and knotted at the neck,
the ends cascading, rich and black,
across a Zapotecan blouse. Grandfather too,
lean, aloof, lips curled as though amused
by some know-nothing’s trite remarks.
Mother, brothers, in the snow
beside a campus campanile: All that
before grandmother left to live a secret life
somewhere in Mexico. Tucked beneath,
so tightly folded the paper cracked
along the creases, a scribbled note:
I’m doing what I have to do.

         ‘Disappeared. What does it mean?’
         Mom’s mouth twitching, then the answer:
         ‘Doesn’t matter.
         ‘All I want is to forget.’ 

Newspaper clippings, manifestos
(some with thumbprints etched in blood),
handbills—crudely done in Spanish,
each one marked with a red star
—then a schoolgirl tablet. The ink was faint
—some words had disappeared and some were written
in a secret code—but paper-clipped together
three pages of square-blocked words:
Soldiers came. They killed José.
They threw us in a truck. Raped us.
Over and over until we were almost dead.
         ‘Sharon, Leave the past!
         Where it belongs! My mother
         was a rebel!
         Led an awful life!’

Almost like new, beneath the letterhead
Secretaría de Defensa Nacional, Estado Mayor,
stilted assurances that no records of the arrest,
imprisonment or death of Martha Martínez
could be verified. But underneath, a sealed-in-plastic
xeroxed copy of a page torn from Sol de México
rolled inside a golden wedding band:
Bodies of three guerrillas found, one a woman
in Zapotecan dress with long black flowing hair.



Middle Age

                                             “There is measure in the darkening.”
                                             —Mario Chard

Then came the moment that the rushing
through his mind of words and politics
and needs swirled away and left him peering
through a darkened window watching
breeze-swayed bougainvillea
shadow dance across a chipped stone wall.

Each night just after dusk he stopped
and listened as twittering gave way
to something breathing deeply.
And breathing with it he would sense
returning somewhere he had been
with people he had loved and feel a rising
towards something distant, glimmering, good.

Then for a moment he would lose attachment
to the many things his fingers could accomplish,
find a sort of balance between clocks
and clockless distance, sound and rising silence,
a space where nothing mattered,
where existence absorbed everything he’d been.

And he would float, suspended, for that moment
then drift selfward, window intervening
between where he was and where he’d been
and he would feel the thoughts returning,
cares and worries, hurts and dangers,
reassume in nighttime all that day had been.


Robert Joe Stout is a journalist, novelist and poet. He has lived in Mexico since 1994 and participated in human rights delegations and care for the aged facilities. Please write to him at

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