ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

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


milk jug by Sarah White

Spilled Milk Poems by Sarah White



Jesse Van Antwerp, gentle dowager,
poured Darjeeling for my mother,
and proposed that I, freed
from the tea table, commune
with knick knacks in her drawing room.

One beguiling item on her wall
was a small silk panel with a scene
of Chinese mountains and,
suspended in the azure skies, a line
of intricate, illegible signs.

My hostess smilingly
confided what one guest
from the Far East had revealed
about the meaning of the characters: 

Her drawing room has disappeared.
So has the brownstone home
and all of State Street as it was.
The silken mountains remain
under silken skies.





1. The Woman Who Spoke in Proverbs

“We made our bed. We ought
to lie in it.”  These old slats
have collapsed
into a mass of scraps.
Should we lie in that?

“Look. If you lie
where you want to,
and I somewhere else,
others will suffer.
People worth their salt
don’t do these things.” Oh?
And what if you and I are not
worth our salt?

“He’s right,” she thought.
“If we ever had a single grain
between us,
it has lost its savor.”

All of the above
is water under the bridge
now. She waits down-
stream with her net
in case a talking trout
floats by
or a bottle with a note.



2. Words on a Wintry Day

She has never used the phrase mental anguish.
Now, on this February morning in Ann Arbor, 
coached by a lawyer, she utters
the term before a judge
who declares her marriage over.

Later, the Anguish-Maker
comes to see her, thanks her
for completing the procedure,
informs her of his own near future— 
a woman whose name is familiar

and a wedding on the last day of February.
Leap Day! a time for magic spells. 
When she hears his kind parting words—I hope
 you find someone, Sarah—she knows
she’ll be alone from now on.



3.  Owen Takes a Vow

“Never!” he mutters,
as he squirms in his summer pajamas.
I wait by the bedside
to exchange our usual kiss.
He waits to hear me
unsay what he heard
today from the man
known, up to now, as Dad:

            I’ll come to see you.
            You’ll come to see us,
            her and me.
            You’ll like her.

Years later, the grown-ups are forgiven,
more or less, but he has kept the promise spoken
that night through gritted teeth:
“I will never, ever have children.”



The Wisest Kid in Michigan  

    clipped a coupon from his comic book,
taped a portion of his savings to the back,
and mailed the whole affair to Plains
River, Indiana. Soon,
it came—the Genuine
Giant Weather Balloon,
a black elastic sack we filled
with vacuum cleaner air
until it grew more grand
and round than anything he owned.

We let it out into the yard like a pet
and watched it bounce—blup!—
against the patio concrete—blup! blup!—
against a spiky shrub—whap!
The thing collapsed.

Owen ran
to his room. I followed,
found him calm on the lower bunk—
a kid of seven, pronouncing a maxim
worthy of the Dalai Lama:

    I guess it’s a mistake 
     to get attached to a balloon.


“Spilled Milk Poems” is the title of an unpublished collection by Sarah White, whose most recent published works are “The Unknowing Muse” (Dos Madres, 2014) and “Wars Don’t Happen Anymore” (Deerfield Editions, 2015). A former Professor of French, she lives, writes, and paints on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

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