ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by William Pruitt

Sex on the Beach

The historic Rosetta mission will end with a crash
into Comet 67P, a creature with featureless head
as if a child formed it from clay, its strange rays
beam across the void. In a submarine below the polar
ice cap, a sailor scratches an itch that isn't there.

Porpoises, egrets, locust trees: it's spring in Brazil!
A dog barks in Calcutta. A school principal in Barcelona takes
a test and fails. Children play in Mysore, Rangoon, Little Rock.
I just got in from yesterday. Men keep their beards trim there.
Women take them or leave them or neither.

A ball bounces off a jetty in Long Island.
A flying fox leaps in a swamp in Madagascar
A carving of a fox's head looks out from a window
in Irondequoit. You can see turning leaves through its eyes.
No wall separating me from the sanitation worker on

the street below, nor from the smooth-skinned college girl
at last night's reading, nor from last night, everything just
keeps going around, everyone just keeps being the center
of their universe, sorry Mr. Trump, that seat has already
been taken, Mexico extends past Alpha Centauri anyway.



Dog with Jet

Sun goes in & out, cicadas have just
Started, Highland Park is washed
In shifting shadows on short glacial slopes
& the sound of wind biting gently into leaves.

I’ve been thinking about the cosmos
And I think I know what it is.
It’s not the plural of a drink made with cranberry juice.
It’s everything. And it’s here.

A woman has a red ball on a skewer—no,
It’s got to be some kind of scoop, and she tosses the ball,
This dog runs, shadow through light through shadow,
He’s honed everything down to the ball, and you know

What he does when he gets it? He brings it back.
There, I’ve given you the cosmos.
I’ve even thrown in a few passing clouds.
No extra charge for the jet.



The English as a Second Language Teacher Explains Question Words

First off, let’s get one thing straight:
What is actually how, all scrunched up. OK?
When you say what? I have to show how.
So vocabulary will only take you so far.

And where must include when, for the traveler
Who thinks the dark road he took before dawn
Is the same one he comes home on in bright day,
Just because the sign says 19, is mistaken.

Who is -er: travel-er, teach-er; you and I.
As for that last one, don’t worry.
Except for mistakes, anomalies
And betrayals, there is no why.



How to Tell your Lover's Not a Robot, or How to Beat Deep Blue

How do you know I am not a robot?
How do you know these lines are not composed by algorithm?
Is it my job to convince you I'm a human being?
What does it mean if I sound convincing?

The leaves of autumn are turning and 
the human hides among them.
Now you must stop looking at me and ask
yourself, what am I? Have you already decided?
Is what or who you are, not part of the changing field you play on?

Don't try
to beat Deep Blue. Don't ask anything
from your lover. To look her in the eye
while you hold her is to toss
the coin in the empty well.

Don't let the sound you don't  hear
of it hitting bottom be because
either one of you stopped listening.



You Don’t Have To Count

You don't have to count the syllables in this line
or apprehend a complex rhyme scheme
there's nothing bothering me, I'm not angry
and I have no lost brother or loved one who has recently died.

My leafy street is a riot of scarlet and gold just now
but I don't expect you to visualize it, nor do I hope
you will see a droid army, or fairies or elves marching
down the street in a huff. No burning or smoldering in my soul

if I had one. If the Devil says, "Pruitt?" I'll just say "Here!"
This poem may end up 14 lines, or maybe twelve, but there's no need
to count those either. You are free. I release you from caring
& calculating. Any more than you already do is too much.


William Pruitt says: ​ I am a fiction writer, storyteller and poet, and an Assistant Editor with Narrative Magazine. I have published poems in such places as Ploughshares, and Cottonwood, two chapbooks with White Pine and FootHills, and self-published Walking Home from the Eastman House. I have told stories in various places in Rochester and upstate New York, including the National Women’s Hall of Fame; I recently performed an original version of the lives of Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony, entitled “Two Kinds of Fear.” My story “My Cousin Gabe” appears in a recent issue of Crack the Spine Literary Magazine.
This is Pruitt's first appearance in Offcourse.

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