ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998.


Poems by Janet Buck


Under the Earth

Seems the rope of pearls just snapped.
Seems you changed out of your
wedding tux into a tie & funeral suit.
It isn’t true. I’ve filled in answers for a test
with just more questions cropping up.
Inspect too much concerning heartache,
it will throw another punch.
The sponges of my eyes hold water
very well. Way too well.
Number one as rules go: chin way up.
Leave it there no matter what.
I cling to the tail of Daddy’s coat.
Since she is gone, half of him is dead as well.

I’m an empty stomach linked to lips,
lips of china blue, almost purple,
speaking of no oxygen.
Quivering, needing what & whom
deserted us by accident.
Cancer was incurable in 1958.
Your breasts are buried in a casket
sealed with mud & February’s thumping rain,
buried in the settled earth so firmly
things will never change.
Everyone is dressed in black
to honor the hue of a missing moon,
the absence of a picket fence in any shade.

When death sinks in, my father
rips the fence apart in a fit of quiet rage,
stacks its wood for kindling near the fireplace—
home went with her body underground.
Our living room’s a wrecking yard.
Who needs a fence around bare land.
He sleeps on a floor of plate-smooth sod, the color
of jade with morning mist applied to spears.
I yank the warmest blanket from my bed,
join him nightly in the grass, a mix of menthol
and the earth where Mother is just resting now.

I understand the lawn & blanket ritual.
Their mattress is a long hard board.



Green, Green Grass to Pale Straw

The sun is hot, hot enough to bring the river to a boil.
So few clouds they could be layered phyllo skins.
Summer climax comes with sweat,
everyone clad in flip flops, cutoffs, ready

for a host of gnats, hornets on a chicken wing.

Ready for a case of beer, ready
for a lawn chair ride, pummeled by a leavened breeze.
Ready for an inner tube. Ready, ready, not for this.
Perked up ears all hear a distant carnival—

then it’s torched the same way lions swallow fire.

The sudden awful overturn of a body born Adonis
or the Ajax Man, born with perfect genes & wealth.
Overturned like chessboards when a child loses to a friend.
The doctor walks the thin white line—

green, green grass evolving into pale straw.

Silence snaps in brittle halves;
steel feet in tennis shoes are strangely cold.
Kids are certain summer’s safe.
The doctor’s patients know it’s not—

at first he wasn’t listening—now he is.

So what did the specialist say—is it Strep
or just a cold? Pass the macaroni salad please.
“Cancer of the throat: advanced.”
Silence breaks the silence down,

molecule by molecule.

They pack up all their picnic gear, red & white
checked tablecloths, silverware that will not last,
food untouched, stack the 7 hula hoops for all the kids
to swing their hips against a storm arriving fast as anyone

can zip a parka, tie a hood, deflect the hail.

A woman knowing chemo wands pukes up brie,
a cracker round, two sips of wine,
celebrating better news way too soon.
They’re racing SUVs down entrance lanes,

anything to skip the river, pounding with its undertow.

They study what remains of green,
receding scalps of balding men.
Wish to God—This is all this ever was—
a head of absent chestnut hair.



One Gray Chair

Don’t ask me what it feels like living in a chair.
I’ll fib & tell you, Well, I don’t.
It’s not a chair with metal wheels.
I push it backwards with one foot,
tangled in the wadded cords,
brutalize every doorjamb in my path,
terrorize our puppy’s toys,
lie to mute all common sense.
Just my way of keeping sane—
pretend a chair is not a chaise
for folding like some dented card.

Staccato dreams of copacetic memories
interrupt a fitful sleep,
leave as quickly as they came.
I’ve returned to CCU,
cannot breathe without a mask.
(When no one watched, I lifted it,
chewed off all my fingernails.)
It’s either pure white sifted flour
of longing or it’s envy’s greed
for wanting legs to be a bridge
to somewhere outside rooms this small
crowded with my scribbling.

The chair I’m in is steel gray,
palettes of a thunderhead,
the hail of which adheres to lips
& will not melt, even if
the sun had twins and heat
were working overtime.
In the end, this tattered chair,
this throne of shame,
will be the bus that mows me down.



Janet Buck is a seven-time Pushcart Nominee and the author of three full-length collections of poetry. She has published more than 4,000 poems, short stories, and non-fiction essays in print and on the internet. Some of Janet’s recent work has appeared in The Birmingham Arts Journal Antiphon, Offcourse, Zombie Logic, Boston Literary Magazine, Vine Leaves, Poetrysuperhighway, Misfit Magazine, Lavender Wolves, and River Babble; more of her poems and prose are scheduled for publication in forthcoming issues of The Milo Review, The Ann Arbor Review, Abramelin, PoetryBay, and other journals worldwide. In 2015, Buck was a featured author in and Burningword. Her latest print collection of verse, Dirty Laundry, is hitting the bookstores now. Visit the ordering link at my new web page:

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