ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by James Miller


Sweat the Onions

We’ve no subways nearby,
though there’s still budget
for a bus line.

Take a ride to the grocery
for rotisserie. Place your item
in the bag.

The attendant has been notified. Kneel
to study the Lanehawk 5, latest
in loss-prevention.

Wait in the kiosk, ride home with us.
Study our faces. We’ll study
back—bet your bottom.


A Walk in London

Sunday before Christmas, the Underground
trains are silent: a conductor’s strike
has stuffed the busses so full I wait three
hours to claim a seat, then creep fifty feet
before rejoining the stalled shoppers.
The man standing next to me says:
I have to get to Heathrow. He seems
not to address anyone in particular,
but acknowledges my glance and turns
to face me— greying temples, zippered
dust and yellow jacket, no gloves,
soft hands clasped behind. Care to
 join me? It will be a long,
long way.

All afternoon we cross late-year light
north towards Paddington. He came
to London decades ago from Martinique,
managed a restaurant, married and divorced.
He drops into a chemist’s for a pack
of cigarettes, offers me one. Be thankful
you never started. Waves away smoke
as we weave through a hospital
parking lot. We clasp palms
not far from the station. He’ll take
the Express to catch his flight
near midnight. No luggage,
nothing to hold.



The ranger encourages us to retire from the trails by eleven.
Thursday, he says, a party of three were lost for hours, wandered
without water till someone noticed their unclaimed suburban parked
at the trail head. Grandmother, her daughter, her daughter’s daughter.
When they were pulled out of the desert, we had been studying
makeshift graves in Terlingua—mounds of flat stones, topped
with arm-length piñon crosses, rosaries draped round blackened
candles, a wizened teddy-bear lying on its back—blinded
six years since the boy slipped underneath.

Nevertheless, we walk into the narrow canyon, confident
in the promise of twilight at noon. Somewhere further along
the downward slope we know the Rio Grande surges toward
the coast. Here, the smoothed rocks suggest centuries of flood,
monsoon hoards hoping to join the river’s churning foam
like milk-rich coffee. We can hear nothing of that motion.

Shallow tinajas, damp footprints in gritty muck.
But most handholds are dry, leave no mark. We climb down
till the drops are too steep, uncertain. The river is still miles off—
or only hundreds of feet. It doesn’t matter. We will not cross
by this route. Will not dry ourselves after, without words,
under another sun.


For Chantal Akerman, From Texas

I plant
a camera
ashore to catch
darkling barges,
starving gulls,

I close up shop
and say, good
work, good enough.
Pisco chills,
and wine.

You stay out,
alone in the sulfur
night, wait
for the bay
to burn.

fingers drop
off, one
by one.
Black lungs
sunk in glycol
and lube—your rasp
sheds eight octaves
by morning.

But come in,
sit. We’ve sage
enough to stuff
your shot
for Sunday

Author James Miller won the Connecticut Poet Award in 2020. His poems have appeared in Cold Mountain ReviewThe Maine ReviewAcross the MarginLunch Ticket, Gravel, JukedMeat for Tea, Main Street RagPlainsongsThe Atlanta ReviewSheila-Na-GigRogue AgentSweet Tree ReviewThin AirThe Inflectionist Review and elsewhere.

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