ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by Michael Olenick

Before She Died

Two weeks before she died
she said it was all going
to hell in a handbasket
when, distracted by work,
I neglected to blanket her cold toes
as she lay on her sickcouch
while I studied my computer
as though it was a normal day.

The same phrase struggled
to escape parched lips when,
with one week left, they told us
nothing more could be done.
Dredged up from who knows where,
maybe something her mum said
when at thirteen she was caught
smoking Dunhills in the backyard.

With one day left speech was not possible.
They said I should talk to you,
that you could hear me,
but I didn't believe them.
I forced out some last words
but there was nothing left to say
except that hell had a new handbasket.


Breton Is Reborn in America and Invents Cerealism

We tease low-key charms,
cheer Rio's goal, then crisp
gray peanuts.

Wry script, ease sin:
Amin toes, Hun knee,
bun cheese,
a vote's puff defeat.

Ah, mental light
rays in bran.



Random island off the coast of Maine
as rocky as it was sandy
chosen because the vowels
outlettered the consonants.

A single place to stay and eat
offering little more than
a creaky bicycle and a rusty porch;
the other guests complaining that
there was just one ferry a day
and nothing to do.

But for us there were blueberries
that needed to be tamed
freed from captor bushes
and trapped in makeshift containers
of hats and scarves
only to be dropped or crushed
before they could be preserved.

There were stars that had waited
several billion years to be joined
into constellations of our own making:
Mabel the ambidextrous seamstress
with her pet foxhound Bert
playing with a loose thread;
Harry the unwell hippopotamus
lolling at a watering hole
with Preston the oxpecker on his back.

There was weather to be ignored,
cumulus turning to nimbus,
and the sky darkening to fudge
while we admired a beaver dam
until we were unable to see;
the wind blindly pelting drops
against our faces.

There was a ride that needed to be offered
from a car that appeared
in the mist of the deluge
on an otherwise carless day.

Does that driver still tell his friends,
as I do mine, how, thirty years ago,
he rescued careless wanderers
from a disregarded downpour?


Michael Olenick lives in Brooklyn with his daughter, son, and wife's ashes. He had a promising start with a story appearing in Journeys: Prose by Children of the English-Speaking World when he was ten and then put writing aside to focus on the usual sensible adult things. Since his wife's death, his inner English major has awakened and he has started writing again as a way to forget and not to forget. His poems have recently appeared or are about to appear in Euphony Journal and These Fragile Lilacs.

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