ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998.


"Past Tense Lullaby" by Janet Buck


You do your duty then go home
to who knows where because I don't
we are at the fault line now,
the tiny invisible fracture before the broken bone
decisive, tearing through tendon, then through flesh.
I am afraid of your footsteps, even in socks.

Here I sit, a turtle with no working parts
except my mind—throws and pillows for a cave
You have giant olive eyes, think you keep them
in a can, but you don't—all the times you look in mine,
do you ponder exit signs? I see empty peanut shells
or chia seeds that glare of mace, in I go into the box,

mousetrap style, my tail what remains of legs,
between the wire and the wood,
as you set water by the bed—jet the room
dust me off your shoulder blades. It's still July
but I can feel both snow and sleet inside my veins,
your heart such dark obsidian.

I read you what I wrote from the depths of mine,
get a belch, that mute reply—how can beating hearts
be rocks, the small of your back mutate from a shelter
to a jail with iron bars, harder than my metal joints,
harder than the sparkling diamond
centered in my wedding ring.

It's not that I don't fathom hard. I know I'm fighting
crippledom's infinity, pushing my body's weight
against the odds, ones that weigh much more than I.
Pain settles in; it's here to stay
because it is, of course. You say, Uh huh
make it worse, so much worse.

Our tree is cracking near the center;
I can sense each arm give way.
A past-tense lullaby is clear.
I now get what islands are.
Times when we are one another's shade,
sparse and slight.

Mostly I'm in breadlines, waiting
for crusts of bread thrown to ducks.
One look from you, I sink like poorly made soufflés.
"I owe you love." So I'm some debt you have to pay?
You yell: "I'm lazy. So what!" So what?
My teeth are loose from biting my lip—

That's when I know I'm fumaroles,
volcanic mist. Whatever I do is wrong,
a crooked hanging curtain rod
(that would be my hunch-backed stand).
When I do, you paw at me, stash me in bed
remove me from some path you planned.

False politeness mixed with aggravation
seems to rule the rocking nest.
I'm the egg that wants to hatch, attempt to fly.
I resent this chair I'm in and so do you,
but I'm the one who's stitched into its biting cloth—
the wilted rose upon a quilt—who on earth

sews wilted roses to a quilt by preference?
I pay the bitter price: I'm back in ICU again—
my skinny as a wire arms strapped to metal rails,
prevent escape—my plan did not include
dead organs pickled in formaldehyde—
the jar sealed not once, but twice.

This second turn I can't untwist.
Don't you see divisions here between two lanes?
Wearing blankets same as veils,
buibuis masquerading issues you can fix—
light bulbs in a ceiling fan.
Your breath is hot in anger now.

I don it as my own burned flesh.
When it's cold, I'm dressed in that.
No terra firma here, just wondering
to stay or go, confusion's runes.
I thank you for the Kleenex box, convinced
that tissue cannot dry a drowning soul.

We're codas when we should be songs
Chair or not—a sailboat requires wind
and wind makes noise.
Conversing's now reduced to urban slang
or quietude. Whining glued to suffering
is all my fault, despite the fact I hide grenades,

stuff a washrag in my mouth most days and nights,
not enough—the only things that call your lips
are coffee and a cigarette or take-out food.
I'm quite aware I cannot stand, bake apple pies,
peel the fruit, roll the crust, memories of doing that
spin curses now, branding irons steaming hot

with what I was and am not now
the now is here in front of us.
Two vowels sounds: Uh huh to pain,
those twins belches smother me,
make me microscopic ants
passing way too near your shoe.

I never shed a tear—a cymbal of incontinence.
I must do Kegels in my sleep to pull this off,
both eyelids squeezed like garlic
in a press that's clogged.
Just because I do not cry,
does not mean I do not weep—

Did you know that silence screams?
That two curt vowels amount to poignant synonyms
that antonyms are kisses never planted on my neck—
piled up, they're lonely, rain-swept dunes,
deserted pocket grasses set along
the English Moors, sharp edges of the Dover Cliffs.

The vista is calamitous, but I am not a piece of ground
to visit whenever whenever arrives.
Did you know not being touched
can leave a wound, grow cornmeal scars—
they won't dissolve—
seven years you hounded me to write again.

Well, I am. Knowing it's my antidote,
my morphine shot, you turn your back.
Resentment swells like bile in you—
if we kissed, I'd taste it there.

            If I leave, I'll do it as a broken branch.

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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