ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Three Poems by William Rector

Workshop poem

Like everyone, I wanted
to split the atom and release
the terrible energy of the truth.

So I wrote in Morse code,
the rapidpentameterofaradio
operator on the troop ship, Pearl

Harbor, anchored off Japan,
the night before the million man
invasion of the islands was to begin.

I’ll translate a few lines:

Crimson startled the blue waves…
smoke, gunfire… screams
erupting from fields and villages…

Mt. Fuji raised a white
eyebrow in astonishment.

I changed course.

A centurion who survived
the battle of Cannae (one of few)
awaited the command of Scipio
Aemilianus to begin the advance
on Carthage, without pity in his heart.

Last stanza of the effort:

The great city was burned
and the ground salted.
Not one stone was
left atop another.

The class understood Latin about as well as Morse code.

Carthage? Ancient history.

A few knew about the elephants that died crossing the Alps.


The Muse of the blurb

She loves everyone! After all, it’s the Age of Denial.
Would you refute her? Does it even matter?
Changing masks the deepest guile.

The critic’s the one she most reviles.
Do I repeat myself? We make quite a pair.
She loves everyone, even me! It’s the Age of Denial.

No doubt the truth’s thing she most reviles.
The literary Möbius strip evades care.
Changing masks the deepest guile.

It’s the browser she most reviles.
Skimming to surpass hers. As if any dare
to love whom they will. It’s the Age of Denial.

Gall gags. We’re bathed in what we revile.
Doubt not makes the loudest prayer.
Changing masks the deepest guile.

Turns out writers are the ones she most reviles!
Dare they meet her gaze? Who cares!
Reader, love whom you will. It’s Age of Denial.
Changing masks the deepest guile.



Long ago, in a dreary conference room in a distant city, I half-listened to a slim young woman speak a language no one could understand, volubly and at length, to a staff psychiatrist and gathered medical students. This is called “word salad,” explained the doctor in an aside. I pictured Cleopatra in her salad days. I thought of Caesar salad, imagined wilted Romaine under sneeze guards in the cafeteria. The session on schizophrenia ended, the last of the Salisbury steak drowning in a shallow metal bin.

A young man was brought to the Emergency Room, blown away on Angel Dust. He didn’t have clothes. Or a name. He also didn’t have any friends, because they left right away. Officially, he was John Doe, but we called him Dale. We took turns peering at nude Dale on tiptoe in his padded cell, eyes closed, afloat on invisible wings of the drug. I thought of grottos from which the Madonna had fled. Of expressionless infants ditching their swaddling. How the frame becomes the painting.

Most things in life pass without a trace, faint as breezes brushing the brow, less than that; but now and then, experience adheres, hardens, and become riveted to thought, like the small metal label I noticed during a late night tête-à-tête with a skeleton suspended from a hook in Anatomy Lab. Made in India. Part of me was shocked; another part was pleased to have been shocked. That night, I dreamt of subway cars without doors arriving at a station where only I waited, the long windows full of faces, as you see in a Newborn Nursery.


William Rector, a retired physician, has published one full-length collection of poems and five chapbooks. He formerly edited the Yale Journal of Humanities in Medicine.

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