ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Three Poems by Janet Buck

Poisonous Poinsettia Leaves

Another ibid Christmas Day.
Martini shakers dripping frost
match my sweat. Champagne bubbles
burn my nose & I refuse to take a glass.
Fingers fumble with a string of pearls—
all fake—of course. I don't put up a tree this year,
don't hang a wreath.
Four months ago, grace dissolved.
The only sorceress of love
whom I could trust—the only
mother figurine I'd ever known
with real body parts,
compassion & a fragrant mind—
left the pages of this earth.

My sister's house is full of all her ornaments.
Red is blood & jade is just a fern of spring I cannot see.
Toy soldiers guard the fireplace.
I'd rather take a heated poker to my pupils
than to wait this out. I stuff down brunch & leave.
Mascara mixed with leaking tears
gives me two black eyes.
I stop at Quick Mart for cheap wine,
stuff two bottles in the freezer,
change from dressy clothes to rags.
Hurry up, hurry up…get cold enough to drink.
They aren't. I start scrubbing countertops.
Certain that I'll never sleep, I strip the bed,
leave the mattress bare, focus on a map of stains.

I polish silver 'til my hands are soot,
pop both corks—their voices are two loaded guns—
then gulp down putrid Chardonnay
faster than a rushing hurricane
removing tops of palms like wigs.
Sipping is a waste of time.
My thirst is for the anesthetic of it all.
I think about the fact that no one
even coughed her name or mentioned
that her chair was missing from the room.
No one knew that grief is dry poinsettia leaves
that kill a dog & anyone who's strong enough
to swallow them.


The Conversation with a Leaf

I am watching a leaf tied to a twig in a vein to the branch of a tree.
It's ready to fall. The breeze is fueled. I wonder how it winces

at the breaking point, even though I think I know. Tied to health.
Precisely none. I think I know. Decide I don't.

This leaf looks a skeleton of what it was. So do I.
Instant friends. Same corpse retreat. Same dwindling.

The leaf & I come to talking. Before it falls, I ask it
what the sky looks like above the ground.

It's way much bluer off the earth; ask the birds,
a vee of geese; they know much more.

"I'll try," I say, "but I'm afraid I'm colorblind to anything
that isn't black, securely tied to Father's death."

Death is never singular—losing love just makes you wish that you were next.
Being just another leaf doesn't mean that letting go is easier. We grow attached.

We grow attached like photos pressed against a frame when glass is wet.
Should have curtsied to the wind—never do—clothesline stretch the suffering.

"So how do you know all this?" I ask. Grow up would ya.' Drop the mask.
You know all this. We both know this.

I've watched through open curtains, seen the sores, maps of scars,
seen enough to make me glad I get more hours of darkness now.


The Sheet of Ice that Had to Be

At four years old, you wore a hat
of poodle-white curls & innocence.
Arcadian dawns were the norm
where chickens roamed the farm.
Acorns grew to sturdy oaks.
You wore optimistic bones,
groomed the horses, fed the mules.
Then age 14—you lost your father
to a stroke. Angels dropped their halos
like some hula-hoop that just won't stay
around a waist—church bells made a raspy noise—
beeping, blaring smoke alarms.

Our mother's death when I was three
shut down all your arteries.
You whispered love in all you did,
but never said the words.
The science of pathology made sense of tragedy
when sermons or a bible failed.
A biopsy is readable but heartaches aren't.
I learned to sneak up on your chair,
wrap my arms around your neck,
kiss the bald spot on your head,
learned to hug you from behind.
I understood the sheet of ice that had to be.


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, The Writing Disorder, Misfit Magazine, Lavender Wolves, Avatar Review, River Babble, The Danforth Review & other journals worldwide. Her latest print collection of verse, Dirty Laundry: A Memoir in Poems, is currently available at all fine bookstores. Buck's debut novel, Samantha Stone: A Novel of Mystery, Memoir & Romance, was released courtesy of Vine Leaves Press in September, 2016. Janet lives and writes in Southern Oregon, just hours away from Crater Lake, one of the seven wonders of the world. For links, announcements, and interviews with Janet, visit her new

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