ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by Steve Klepetar

American Tongues

"I'd write of politicians,
refineries, and a border's barbed wire,
but I am unlearning America's languages
with a mop."

Sheryl Luna

America's tongues are round in the mouth, 
filled with nouns pulled from the earth 
by brown hands and ragged hands and hands 
that signal in the dark. America's languages 
fill the air with noise. Night fell, and the 
Senators slept. The President sat up in bed. 
Cars snaked along the avenue. 
You could smell exhaust, exhaustion, fear 
painted on bricks, smeared along alleyways. 
All night I have pushed a broom and a mop. 
I have made this slippery floor clean. 
If you should fall, I will be here to bandage 
your leg, pull splinters from your arm, 
clean the cut above your eye. I will speak 
softly and ease your pain. We will walk 
together down the hallway, and you can 
lean on me. You will not fall. I will see you 
get well. Tomorrow I leave for the border. 
The barbed wire will cut my palms.
I will speak across the fence to people 
holding hands, holding children, holding 
their collective breaths as the desert sun 
floods the sky. I speak in an American Voice, 
hoping they hear the surf in my long vowels, 
the rumble of trucks as I comfort them 
in all my American tongues –
Wise Guy, Rural Poor, American Gothic, 
Holding the Phone, American Doll, 
American Whispering to the Falling Stars.


A Time for Fires

Broken chair, fragments leaning at the curb, 
and now almost dark at 3 p.m. 
Air cold as frost, world sunk in a cloud. 
No dogs, no cars sweeping up the street, 
silence in the solstice time. Sleeping Beauty 
dozes in her castle ringed with thorns. 
Everyone around her has gone blind with drink. 
Axes lie around and wood chips everywhere. 
Tonight the witches return, wrapped in ancient furs,
faces blurred by sleep and snow. 
They return from the west, long fingers trailing webs. 
They are spiders, spinning silk. 
They have forgotten to look for the moon, 
which bathes unseen in a nearby pond. 
It is time for fires, a circle of flame. 
Hills and houses burn, and smoke hangs on the city's breath.
The witches have forgotten time, lost the thread of their long lives.
Tonight the city reels in darkness. 
Sparks leap through streets, catching again and again on bone dry grass


Steve Klepetar lives in the Berkshires in Massachusetts. His work has appeared worldwide, in such journals as Chiron, Deep Water, Muddy River Poetry Review, The Muse: India, Night Garden, Poppy Road Review, Snakeskin, Voices Israel, Ygdrasil, and many others. Several of his poems have been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize. Klepetar is the author of fourteen poetry collections and chapbooks, the most recent of which include How Fascism Comes to America (Locofo Chaps), Why Glass Shatters (One Sentence Chaps), and o filho da bebedora de café (The Coffee Drinker's Son), translated into Portuguese by Francisco Jose de Carvalho.

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