ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Three Poems by Stephen Cramer




I have some theories that revolve around

the swallows’ drift
then sudden angled dive,

& others that center around picking up the dry

sticks of worms
two days after a rainstorm.

I have many more about the soft horizon

of your hips. One
of my greatest doctrines

involves the blue weather systems that snake by

at night, although
the starlings crammed

in the eaves, balancing on a banister of light

give it a run
for its money. 

Some days nothing makes sense. But then I stumble

into a ditch filled
with the asterisks

of chicory & hubcaps, & the spokes

of some beat up old
bike point out

toward the edges of space, explaining everything. 





            When your father orders you to get rid of those damn chipmunks
            running amok in the backyard rock wall, tunneling their unmappable
            maps into the dirt, no problem!: just fill a bucket with water,


            pour enough seeds in to float on the water's skin, then create
            a nice welcoming ramp of plywood. It's just so funny to watch
            the little critters run up the ramp & jump onto what looks like a pile


            of seeds but then fall through & drown—ha ha!—& all you have to do
            at the end of the day is take the dozens of them—
            dozens! It's that easy!—back into the woods behind your house


            & pile them there, & BOOM—your father pays you a buck a corpse
            while all you really did was sit inside & play Nintendo
            having the time of your life while you're just raking it in!


            Best. Job. Ever. They'll never eat his sunflower stalks again. They'll never
            eat anything again! Ha! Meanwhile     the problem is: while you're playing
            Nintendo, the new guy is on the news saying climate change is a hoax


            implanted in our minds by the Chinese, but then he about-faces & says
            there may be some connectivity (sic) (right? Sic is what you write
            when someone says something ass in nine & you want to be sure the reader


            knows the speaker & not you is the ass in nine one? Whatever.
            Point is: there may be some connectivity (sic) between humans & climate
            change. & it's like: the volume button's all the way across the room,


            & I'm not getting off the couch to change it because I'm being attacked
            by a bunch of purple aliens. Where's my little brother when I need him?
            Anyway the anchor misspells terrorists as terrarists—T-E-R-R-A-


            & then makes up an excuse for it by saying that this new word is about
            people who profit from environmental destruction. Those loony lefties would
            probably call me a terrarist just because I live to kill little fuzzy pixilated animals


            with three purple horns & pink bows in their hair, live for the sweet sound
            of bloopbloop bloopbloop each time one of them dies. Dirty little monsters
            (the ones with horns & the ones in congress, what's the big diff? Haha!).


            Day after day, game after game to play, your thumb almost numb
            from the joystick & button slamming, bucket after bucket of dead     
            to toss out, then one day you approach the bucket a little slower       


            due to the small splashing noises & find one of those creatures 
            keeping himself afloat by balancing on the back of one of his dead   
            brothers. You quickly run the bucket to the woods & dump the corpses       


            & expect the living one to run off, but here's the thing: instead
            he just stands there on his back legs, staring at you, his eyes penetrating
            not only your eyes but years & years of your dreams, like... into the future.


            Man, that stare. I told my dad I was done, the fate of his sunflowers
            be damned. I don't know much about them terrarists, but I know
            that if they ever saw a stare like that, they'd be done, too. It's like way worse


            than being attacked in a video game. It's like that chipmunk's stare
            is an invisible plank that I have to climb up on, & I do, & I climb
            right through his eyes & turn around, & there I am, a stinking chipmunk watching


            all my family drown around me. & so, maybe it's stupid but, like, okay: 
            maybe I hope everyone gets to climb through the eyes of those they hurt,
            because, like, I know it sucks that the game will be over—


            cue the downward swirling sounds of pixellated defeat—but then
            maybe winning the game was always about draining the water & tossing out
            the seeds, & maybe you get a satisfying bloopbloop sound each time a chipmunk


            eats a seed instead of drowns. Bloopbloop. Bloopbloop. Bloopbloop. 





            Nickel & rupee, centavo & baht tossed for good fortune
            into a Thailand fountain turned cataclysmic in the stomach

            of the green sea turtle—subsequently (& lamentably) nicknamed “Bank”—
            a resident at a conservation center, no less, in Sri Racha. Shine & shine:

            too much shine to resist, even for this animal whose fare
            usually consists of seagrass & algae, & this new metallic diet

            has grown heavy: five pounds of human grease & sheen 
            in her stomach, making it easier to sink than swim,

            the exaggerated dig of the front flippers, the strain toward the surface
            for air, the ventral shell fractured under the weight, splitting

            under each stroke. General anesthesia & a four inch incision:
            five surgeons withdraw 915 coins from Bank's stomach.      

            The blank eyes out-torpor torpor as the slot regurgitates
            metal, catching the relentless light.All she can see is vague figures

            swaying above, the way the stream of conservatory visitors
            used to ripple & wrinkle through the water's veil.  



Stephen Cramer’s first book of poems, Shiva’s Drum, was selected for the National Poetry Series and published by University of Illinois Press. His second, Tongue & Groove, was also published by University of Illinois. From the Hip, which follows the history of hip hop in a series of 56 sonnets, and A Little Thyme & A Pinch of Rhyme, a cookbook in haiku and sonnets, came out from Wind Ridge Press in 2014 and 2015. Bone Music, his most recent collection,was selected by Kimiko Hahn for the 2015 Louise Bogan Award and published in 2016 by Trio House Press. His work has appeared in journals such as The American Poetry Review, African American Review, The Yale Review, Harvard Review, and Hayden’s Ferry Review. An Assistant Poetry Editor at Green Mountains Review, he teaches writing and literature at the University of Vermont and lives with his wife and daughter in Burlington.

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