ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by Janet I. Buck

When Please & Thank You Leave the Room

Tuh, tuh, tuh, toilet please, I mutter in a pitch-dark room,
this closet corner I’ve been living in for nine long years.
Blinds are shut. Curtains closed. Sunlight and glaucoma
do not get along. I ladle teardrops into verse,
where suffering is musical, a symphony of fatal flaws.
At times. I beg to get dementia, Altz’s waltz.
That way I won’t realize autonomy and dignity
are slippers chewed by dogs—dogs left alone.
Tuh, tuh, tuh, toilet please, I mumble louder now.

My husband’s in another time and place,
eating breakfast, thinking Lazarus is myth.
Still he’s watched as I’ve returned,
a deciduous shrub he pulled back from the dead.
He leaves warm food to tend to me—
cradles the back of my neck—
careful not to break the teapot’s handle—
hanging on by ancient glue.
Supine to sitting is the goal.
“Hurry up!” I scream, afraid I’ll flood the bed.
Please and thank you have not left the room,
not yet—they will—pleasantries evaporate,
turn stillborn children in my throat,
turn sparklers meant for Independence Day,
then fizzle into ash. No point in lighting off a joystick
drowning in November rain.

I struggle to a floppy stand. Muscle mass,
once pliant veal, now dry noodles in a bag.
Two raw elbows sliding on the counter steady me.
Martini-shaken shivering takes hold.
Drugs that let me sleep an hour have all worn off.
Languishing on paper is forgivable.
Striking those I love is not.
Pale-faced, I wear the lumpy pores of freezer burn.
Please take down the mirrors, I say—
I’ll live with pepper stuck between my teeth.
Please put ‘walking’ on the grocery list.
He leaves before I’ve wrapped a sentence up.

I’m pinned to him like some corsage—
a thirsty orchid, losing petals—
falling in his open hand.


Multiple Stones 

Here it comes—a lodestone
dragging me to earth—
a monster ripping pages
from my address book—
a bulky asteroid splitting
cushions on the couch.
I despise rows of tombstones
staged where parks of wet & mossy grass
might cool a child’s sunburned feet.

And yes, it’s passing kidney stones—
to watch the metal zipper close.
Grief abducts but won’t release.
To argue this is blaring with a megaphone:
Love was not endowed enough to stick around.
It was. It is. If you are buried under leaves,
I’ll never rake the yard again.
Give me templates for this journey
crossing fields of wormy corn.
I veto endings, cosset spinning tumbleweeds,
even though a hospice nurse is standing here
with Cliff Notes for a text called Passages
the proper word for letting go.

I can’t.
Go ahead, quote my two myopic eyes.
Tell me I lack common sense. I do.
Fathers can be heroes can be deities—
with velvet horns of calla lilies for a voice.
No piece of parchment in her palm
makes taut umbrellas for the hail.
A wild rose must climb the fence—
convince me death’s a fragrant iris to the ill.
Heavy clouds are now expired cottage cheese.


The Silent Wolf

I never mean to menace splendors of the world,
            but do. It’s just my choppy gait
Bleeding on clean shirts.

My kiss is mildew, fuzzy teal & lacking oxygen
            I don’t wear lipstick
Tubes dry out like crusty socks on clotheslines in the heat.

The hour is late. Clocks tick-tock like rattlesnakes
            Beneath a stone. I sit beside an
unmade bed, use the mattress for a desk.

I dye gray beards of hair, pluck my brows for photographs
            Make the presentation tasteful
Even when it’s not.

I’m orange rinds in search of fruit, avocados turning black
            You’ll find me in a pool of quicksand
Rising just above my chin.

I don’t kill ants, not anymore, because I know
            I’m one of them
Have a closet full of shoes, 10 ft. from an absent foot.

If someone has a ballerina music box, please show mercy
            Put it in my hand
I’ll quote a wish & listen to the sound of grace.


What Is Wet Is Not the Rain

Darkness ought to be a quiet place.
It’s not. I dip a cloth in vinegar,
wipe the mirror, see spider husks—
wonder if my mind is one of them.
Another sleepless milquetoast night,
searching for the rhythm
of a blooming rose—evasive subtlety—
when clamoring is all I hear.
Chipped marble moons for memories,
address books with pages marked:
X X X, X X X, X X X…
What’s the point of Christmas cards. 

I can’t do this dance of crossing off the dead,
those who left me alone to wish them back,
even in their suffering. Now I’m next in line.
Busy batting cobwebs & invisible ants—
hungry kittens chasing balls of yarn—
there used to be an hour or two,
a time I rather liked myself.

I’ve sat for nine long years,
begging for steps that never arrive.
“Walk a mile a day. Edema will be gone
in no time flat,” says my PCP.
I’m the jerking scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz,
but Dr. O forgot I have a missing limb.
“Roll down your sock, let me feel the other leg.”
He has no clue about a life where bodies
turn upon their parts like rabid dogs,
fired muscles jet 3rd fingers in the air—
complain—then whimper on a pillowcase
stuffed between two steel hips.

Candor’s kiss is often drool.
Do poets learn to cope with effigy—
or just prepare to trip on lumpy cobblestones.
I blubber like a tired fountain filled with ink,
stay up ’til dawn to reassure myself—
tomorrow comes to those
who sort through yesterdays—
do not avert their scarlet eyes.


Florence, Italy: 1966

Heaven lashes out at Hell in roses
as their bellies swell, release perfume—

No chaining down of hanging fuchsias
settled in their baskets made of wire & grass,
since no one thinks to steal them.
Their tongues, their drooping curls, belong.
Neighbors bring hot noodle soup
to someone ill & suffering.
Garden eyes invite a theme of peace.
I smell fresh garlic, gingerroot in locks of hair.

Villas molded side by side do not require a fence.
Robert Frost was wrong.
Wet socks pinned to clotheslines
of a tree branch dry—because—
a gentle breeze is cupping them.
Pigeons squabble over bread cubes
tossed on cobblestones.
That’s it for gang wars in this dreamy place.

You leave me on a bench outside an antique shop.
Dally ’round the dusty treasures,
make friends with rusted clocks, sense
solid brass is hiding under coats of paint.
I’m outside in lemon sunlight,
watching tourists shuffle maps of history.
No one kidnaps children here.
In some boutique, just doors away,
women have no tug-of-wars
for blouses on a clearance rack.

I never see a cop, not once.
No buses and no diesel fumes.
Sweet orange sunsets in a place 
where churches do not lock
their doors at night
live inside my diary.
It’s here, between soft-spoken lips
of poppy bowls, I wish to die.


The Shopping Spree

I’ll take the pink Corvette of that girl’s pretty legs in ballet garb.
            Maybe I won’t. Inside my artificial thigh, tights will pinch.

I’ll take the foot that twiddles its toes when some MD says, “wiggle them.”
            Maybe I won’t. My boneless ones clench a fist, seize the ground.

I’ll take ten fingers of a woman grabbing fifteen shirts at once.
            Maybe I won’t. I only need one blouse with sleeves to mask my scars.

I’ll take that young girl’s even shoulder blades. She doesn’t drop her purse.
            Maybe I won’t. Perhaps I’d rather dump the luggage, crack a mirror.

I’ll take two stalwart wrists of shoppers hauling all their bulging sacks.
            Maybe I won’t. My broken one will open doors for some old lady with a cane.

I’ll take her bold & chestnut eyes without a crease. Her shadow’s blended perfectly.
            Maybe I won’t. Mine are opal blue & small. I squint to dodge my destiny.

I’ll take the knees of that lank woman—over there—she squats without a thought.
            Maybe I won’t. I must learn to bend in half & still not break.

I’ll take all the flip-flops in the mall, happy noises, making music on clean tile.
            Maybe I won’t. A clicking keyboard might just write a poem.


Janet Buck is a seven-time Pushcart Nominee & the author of four full-length collections of poetry. Buck's most recent work is featured in The Birmingham Arts Journal, Antiphon, Offcourse, PoetryBay, Poetrysuperhighway, Abramelin, Misfit Magazine, Lavender Wolves, River Babble, The Danforth Review & other journals worldwide. Her latest print collection of verse, Dirty Laundry, is currently available at all fine bookstores. Buck’s debut novel, Samantha Stone: A Novel of Mystery, Memoir & Romance, was released by Vine Leaves Press in September, 2016. Janet lives & writes in Southern Oregon—just hours away from Crater Lake, one of the seven wonders of the world.

Return to Offcourse Index.