ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by Devon Balwit

Dharma Talk

Linda Ronstadt has Parkinson's and cannot sing
a note, the bald monk muses, a touchstone
to her talk on The Five Remembrances. Each one
reminds us of impermanence, how clinging
can only lead to grief. Adept at evading
such unwelcome truths, I nod. My own
losses emit a steady howl. I groan.
Like most, I fantasized about escaping
renunciation. Somehow diet, exercise,
and will would whip my body to the grave. Old
I'd be before I yielded a single thing
I took for granted. Now, I avert my eyes
like a child caught out in a lie. The bald
monk knows and smiles. Her bell rings.


À l'immortalité

If you are reading this, you know the hunger
for a reverent hush at the mention of your name.
You know the indignity of petition, standing there
in the doorway, manuscript in hand, your paltry claim
to join the immortals. What if they laugh—or worse—
pay no attention? If you could be content
in any other way, you would. It's perverse—
this need to write. You expect the headless monument
in sand, scoured of all but the brute fact
of having tried. You eye the ones in the brocaded
jackets. How did they do it? Was it contacts?
Luck? A brilliance that you lack? Deflated,
you log your latest "No" and get back to work.
Perhaps a possum spots your candle in the dark.

(forLuc Ferry, upon being rejected by the Académie Française)


What the Lab Mice Sing

The singing mice converse between cages, mindful
not to interrupt. Have you seen the Hockney exhibition?
Yes, replies the aria. Delightful renditions—
verdant fields I'd gladly live in, full
of trees and wildflowers. And have you mulled
the sighting of the giant Wallace bee? Predictions
of its extinction were premature. Very. The condition
of the ocean troubles, though. Certainly. We all
ought do more. Even we. Let us compose
an elegy. Who better than the caged to sing
of demise? But one not completely dark.
No. The lab assistants approach our rows
with breakfast. One can find routine inspiring.
Goodness, yes. From the smallest detail a spark.

(inspired by the NY Times of 3/6/2019)


Lessons from Pompeii

You're too old to flee, injured, or dug-in.
The night sky smolders a backdrop for routine,
the distant cries easy to ignore. Oracles
have sounded. It looks bad, but you linger—
this, your only house, your only garden.
Finally, you must shoulder what you can,
limping off beneath reluctance to join
the long lines heading shoreward. You don't
get far. If there's irony in being brained
by a doorpost, it's not for you to savor.
We're the ones who snicker at a distance—
we with our own big one approaching.
We sense the rumble, but also hesitate—
our much-loved roses about to bloom.


The Forecast Calls for a Blue Day

A coven of clouds rides, hair streaming,
skirts billowing west. I'd give my soul
to join them, abandoning house
to chase February's brief light,
my aching body cast over a chairback.

There was a time not so long ago, I plaint
to a hedge of peeping sparrows.
Envy whirs by on racing-bike tires,
prances the kick-step of joggers.
Wistful, I nurse glass-shard feet,
left to wring ichor from ichor.


Devon Balwit teaches and writes in Portland, OR. Her most recent collection is titled A Brief Way to Identify a Body (Ursus Americanus Press). Her individual poems can be found here as well as in The Cincinnati Review, Tampa Review, Apt (long-form issue), Grist, and Under a Warm Green Linden among others. For more, see her website at:

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