ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by Travis Stephens


I invented a forgetting machine
& put it in a bottle. Covered it with
a pretty good bourbon, not great whiskey
but smoky & almost sweet.
It had good color, as they say about whiskey or
or wine but not about people waiting in line;
who wait for another day to end,
who work hours to pay for a door that closes,
who know car insurance costs more than
to flee the scene.
Some wheels only turn backward.
I invented a forgiving machine but gave it away.
I invented a falling machine & put it in a bottle.
It tastes like stumble, it
smells like closing time.  I don’t know
where I put it.



a cluster
family of four
mother, father, son, little sister
on the shuttle bus
one, two big suitcases plus
small ones. Mother stands
close to the son, touches his face,
the two in close conversation.
He is already taller than her,
slender boy with good hair.
She wears a black dress. loose
except across proud cleavage.
She is whispering in his ear &
it will not be much of a shift
to first girlfriend; that close.
A girlfriend she will hate, not
to be trusted at all.
Father has his long arms
around the daughter. Silent, she
leans back against his knees.
He looks tired.
A small family
on a short holiday
carrying all the past architecture
& new seeds of the
next disaster.



Tom Waits is being piped in,
saying “Hold on.”
I cannot seem to get enough
caffeine into my blood,
these torpid
middle of October blues.
Listen, they gave Dylan a Nobel.
Anything is possible.

I can’t help but think of Jay Bob Scott
from Neponset, Illinois.
Man of three first names,
who was my relief on the tour boat.
He didn’t know anything
about diesels, sure,
but everybody liked Jay.
So for three days a month
he was enough.
I think of Jay
because he would leave
notes for me about the
anything that
might cause a problem.
His notes always ended with a Dylan quote.
Don’t think twice, it’s alright.
I left notes in kind;
pumps and vandals,
got to serve somebody,
joker man.
It seemed as
though Dylan had lines
for anything, if you kept
it loose enough.
Later I fished with
Ten Knot Tommy
who found a “Wizard of Oz”
song for every fishing day—
If I Only Had a Brain.

So in October of another sideways
year I wonder
if either Dorothy or Dylan
have an answer for the blues.
Ask the woman waiting in line,
wearing coveralls, as I know them,
boiler suit or jumpsuit. Hers
is form fitting, snug where she
would want it to be, generous to
a fault. Onesie, twosie.
Do coveralls honestly work
with a push-up bra?
Nearby, a man in a fedora.
Not trying too hard at all.

I watch a pot-bellied man of about my age
climb onto a bike for a ride.
He’s leaving Starbucks,
pedaling to wherever
his wife will lead.
She has a camera mounted to
her helmet,
a lean hungry look.

Ask the rumpled writer
scratching away in his journal.
All of us dipped in indigo.
What I am trying to say, man, is
maybe the best advice of
the day is simply
Hold On.


Author Travis Stephens is a tugboat captain who resides with his family in California. A graduate of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, recent credits include: Dime Show Review, GRIFFEL, 2River, Sheila-Na-Gig, Ravens Perch, Miletus, and The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.

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