ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by Deborah Bogen


In Praise of What Remains Unfinished

In the last place what you see will be your own — maybe a girl jumping rope or a deer alive and deep in the silvery cottonwoods. So relax. You won’t need to justify your life or try to name whatever motors this world. You’ll be free to float between attention and daydream, letting your arms feel their elbowy-jointedness.

And what a relief to strip off the hair shirt of intellect and notice that what you once called destiny is simply life. The days you slip through till you pull yourself over that last ridge and give up saying No. Maybe the sandstone will be hot that day, or maybe there will be rain. Maybe you’ll be thinking of Istanbul and your last unfinished project —



Paradise Lay Off in Another Direction

Most days we did vocabulary. Miss Foster chalked Words You Should Know on the board. Tenacious, she wrote, then treacherous. The radiator hummed, warming me toward daydreams that featured a boy named Michael McBride.

School meant being fenced in, foreshortened, but I listened for other voices. I listened — but never let them get too close. Split-brained, I could head-circle myself into all the right answers, but I was never fully in my body. Never fully in that room. And I didn’t worry. School was temporary. Somewhere a road snaked out of town.



Speak Now This Charm

Lastly we are all summer grass and even here,
in memory-ville, there’s not much to say.
If it has a box, if it was a box, if it’s in the box,
if a hand under the lip could lift the lid, could be a way of climbing in
or being in — of being in the box or the boat,
or if I could be a button on your blouse. Oh doo dah, doo dah.
Remember us, sister? The way we danced beneath
the blue sky-colander?

Either you settled to earth or flew to the trees.
Details blur.               I try not to make you up but it was all so long ago.
Tasseled curtains trimmed the window where
I pressed my mouth to glass                        but there was no getting at you.
No getting past the fate of you       
that body-fault.
And no way to kiss, or place a leaf on your face.
You lay, aloof, your head on a pillow.
I hoped you slept, but who can think of graves as other houses?

You know I’m zero Catholic but
you brings out the want in me.          Recalling you is now my relic.

Still, the bloody sun rolls her eye.
She’s going flat, becoming horizon. And there is a bigness
once the grief burns off. 
Once the grass turns brown and the mowers go home.
So don’t worry.
And don’t be scared.
These things happen all the time. Here in this place
grow into your nothingness.
Keep on shrinking, even smaller.
The charm says Earth masters all creatures.
So be done now, my darling.
Be dirt.



Me and Vincent

Van Gogh painted moths. It’s rarely mentioned, but he did. And when he was crumbling, when he was unhinged by Too-Much-Nature, he drew other small things. Caterpillars, broken leaves, dimming the world to see if he could stay.

Vincent, I hope you know the road menders are still at work. And in the poets’ garden and the garden of the asylum ravens continue to frank the air. I think of you there, staring out the window while stars churned sky to a throbbing canvas. The winds were brazen, weren’t they, and so bright-edged with gold. It was all too much. Too much.

Sometimes, Vincent, I wish God would just act his age.



To Tell a Story

There’s no secret to syntax. The crown rusts. The peasants sharpen their pikes. A carriage comes secretly through the forest. There’s a distant bell and suddenly the trees are dancing fire. Over there a road leads off to paradise but crossing the mountains is perilous and here, in the middle of the story, we find a girl who sits patiently in the presence of a great love. In the square, flower sellers continue to sell flowers. Patrons and fortune-tellers quarrel among themselves. The crown remains unclaimed, but a clock is ticking and in the bishop’s cellar a small child holds his breath. Finally there are horses, or a hunting dog, or perhaps a bird. Then a bit about the harvest, good or not. Near the end a young man stands up. There’s always one of these. He picks up the crown and says, “My mouth is full of God.”


Author Deborah Bogen says: My two full-length collections are "Living by the Children's Cemetery" and "Let Me Open You a Swan." These poems are from a new MS of prose poems.

This is Bogen's first appearance in Offcourse.

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