ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by Claire Scott



Because the Ceanothus is failing. Leaves drooping,
frail branches breaking, roots thinning,
pulling away from the earth. I send photos
to an arborist who says these shrubs don’t last
that long. Ours has been growing against the side
of our house for over twenty years. Blue lace flowers
bring solace in spring, drawing pale green swallowtails.
Last week the gardener eased the dried bush
from the ground, chopped it up and threw it
in his truck. Is it really so simple?

Because I do not have the gift of happiness.
My happiness is wrestled and worked and worried,
not easy like a dove settling on her nest
or lilac buds opening in the lift of early light.
The time we have too short to master love,
to have compassion be our first response.
Judgment is quicker, sharp and cutting like a sword,
maiming and mauling and mangling,
and my love I am sorry but I am tired
of myself, of my menacing mind with its thinning
roots. I am ready to be loaded into a truck, tossed
in a coffin, covered with crusty earth.

Because there must be a string. That will ring
a bell in case I change my mind, in case I miss
the first pale crocus pushing through sooty snow,
the grace of spiders spinning hope, the slouch
and slow of summer’s pace. In case I miss
our almost love and want to let you
warm this soulless place, lying heavy in my heart.



           musical term indicating a decrease in volume or tempo

I am having trouble memorizing you
once I memorized entire passages from The Waste Land
                  April is the cruelest month, breeding
                  Lilacs out of the dead land
but I am having trouble memorizing you
as you move more slowly, more softly
unfinished sentences, words left hanging
and I forget what they were, what you
were wearing, what we ate for lunch
was it a cheese omelette or leftover stew

I found a wizened peach in the cupboard
behind our pills, did you put it there? did I?
Aricept, Atenolol, Coumadin, Lunesta, Neurontin, Xanax
an alphabet of pharmacological miracles
to keep your heart beating, to keep our minds limber
do you know I sneak Lunesta the nights I sleep
sleepless beside you, asking for more time, please more time
my prayers landing wide of the mark, it’s been too long,
god has given up and moved to greener pastures

Muted days with occasional staccato bursts
                  a grandson’s graduation
                  a poem published in AARP
then once more a diminuendo, a ritardando
softer and slower, the tempo of grave
until you are barely a whisper
like a Luna moth at dusk
flickering in the lamplight
or a pale heart that has had enough

Leaving me bruised and bewildered, but still standing
rising from the shroud of sleep
into the haze of secondhand days
moving listlessly, little memory left
sometimes I forget I am alive
but the coffee smells fresh this April morning
the finches are singing high C’s
and dull roots are stirring with spring rain
                  shantih    shantih    shantih



Let’s all remember the year 1947,
not because the Kon-Tiki sailed across the Pacific, India became independent, the CIA was established, a UFO was sighted at Roswell and a car cost $1,500.

Important as all these are (and we don’t want to minimize), we should all remember 1947 for the first drive thru at Red’s Giant Hamburg along Route 66 in Springfield, Missouri.
A brilliant idea right up there with the double helix and E=MC².

Us Americans soldered to the seats of our cars can now go to drive thru banks, drive thru
flu shots and STD testing and yes (why not?) a drive through Jesus Loves You outside of Malcolm, North Dakota. There’s a menu board to choose from, along with the price

in dollars, bronze coins and shekels. There’s a speaker where you shout your order
to a second class seraphim or a trainee saint who are wearing plastic wings, tarnished haloes and earbuds. A good night’s sleep shouts one of us, a raise from my mingy boss

yells another and Lord keep the liquor away whispers quiet Millie in the back seat,
smelling of bourbon at ten a.m. We wait. And wait. Finally the display shows our order,
a total of 5,000 shekels. We grab our phones to Google the dollar equivalent.

We ask if there is a money back guarantee. The pimply seraphim with a scribble of a mustache snickers and yawns and says possibly, who knows, except for the liquor.
That cost another 10,000 shekels and 2,000 Hail Mary’s.

We drive over to In-N-Out Burgers where you get what you pay for. 



My father wore a suit and tie to dinner. Every night
at seven sharp he recited a dreary grace
of unfamiliar blessings. Us kids tried
to keep straight faces  as we fierce-kicked
under the table. We wanted dinner
to be done so we could  retreat to four
separate rooms with our dolls and stuffed animals
and disappear at last into pretend.

Before eating, he cut his meat
into perfect squares as though solving some
complex physics puzzle.
Us kids ate like restive horses
cutting, stabbing, shoveling while sliding
the spinach or succotash to the side.
The only sound the click of knives
and forks and the ice sloshing
in my mother’s steady scotch.
My father ate methodically from the first bite
to the last. He never seemed to savor the roast
or the requisite white Friday fish.
He ate like a machine,
the same way he loved.

Today he lives in a shoe box in the back of a closet
somewhere, but we can’t remember where. We ask
do you remember? is it true that? are you sure?
as though we were survivors
of separate shipwrecks on a pale yellow sea.
When we get together we eat at six
or nine, never seven, enjoying a raucous meal,
sharing sagging bundles of half stories
and loose ends, shape shifting as doors open
and we discover who we are.
Sometimes we wonder what ghostly
memories our father was keeping
at bay with his seersucker suits and steadfast
squares. Then we pour more Chardonnay,
thankful we no longer disappear into separate
rooms, desperate to get away.


Claire Scott is an award winning poet who has received multiple Pushcart Prize nominations. Her work has appeared in the Atlanta Review, Bellevue Literary Review, New Ohio Review, Enizagam and Healing Muse among others. Claire is the author of Waiting to be Called and  Until I Couldn’t. She is the co-author of Unfolding in Light: A Sisters’ Journey in Photography and Poetry.

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