ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by Kelley White

The Nurses Call Me

A mother’s gone berserk. She’s locked herself
in her room. Pushed her newborn baby out
into the hall. She’s screaming, throwing things
at the father. If he is the father.
That’s the problem. He’s not sure. He won’t sign
the birth certificate. Wants a blood test
to prove it’s really his. DNA test.
She says she’ll give up the baby herself.
Put him up for adoption. She can sign
him over to social service without
any questions asked. So who’s the father
if he’s not? It’s not like there’s anything
to prove she cheated on him. No. Nothing
but what his sister says. And she detests
me. The young woman’s crying. The ‘father’s’
let me in. To reason with her myself,
as the baby’s doctor. I wait her out
for a moment. She’s cursing. Naked. Signs
of cocaine and heroin abuse. Signs
I have to ignore for the moment. Things
to address later. I send the man out.
Tell him to get a cup of coffee. Test
the water a bit. Try to calm myself.
She starts to listen. She says the father’s
been raising a kid he thought he’d fathered
six years ago with his ‘wife.’ When he signed
his ‘son’ up as dependent to himself
on his veteran’s benefits the thing
blew up—the kid’s not his—he just found out
cause the government demanded a test
to prove paternity. He’d attested
in family court to being the father.
That wasn’t enough. So the truth came out.
The man’s back with coffee. He says he’ll sign.
He says he loves her. Trusts her. But the thing
is he’s been in Iraq nine months himself—
just got out. Honorable discharge. Things
he did over there? He detests himself.
How can he sign up to be a father?


Once to Every Man

Helen cannot speak the words. She cannot
remember them. But she can sing them, ‘Once
to every man and nation, comes the moment
to decide.’ It is silent in the meetinghouse. Only
the clock ticking and outside a full snow falling.
We fools drove around the lake and down
Bear Camp Road and through the covered bridge
to this nearly empty space. Once a man sat outside
meeting in his pick up truck, three rifles
on the rack in the rear window. No one spoke of it.
Until later when we talked of ways to deal with danger,
threat, fear. But the man drove away as we were rising.
Last week a truck with an NRA sticker was parked
in the lot. I could not tell which of us it might belong to.
There were several men I hadn’t met but they seem
well known to others. Today in the snow I see
an ancient white birch, three mammoth pines,
and lichen in blotches. Oval and round, and I see
that pattern now, it is a target. Bull’s eye. Some of us
must be thinking of the shootings in Florida. The newest
shootings. Some from this meeting held signs of protest
last week. Today, when we shake hands and rise
I bring out my gloves, my white crocheted gloves,
each with a blue ‘evil eye’ in its palm. The eye of Fatimah,
eye of Mariam, Hamsa hand, hands up ‘Don’t shoot.’
Will looks strong but he remembers the time before running
water or electricity. At 63 I am the youngest in this room.
‘Some great cause, Some great decision. . .’and the choice
goes by forever ‘Twixt that darkness and that light.’



tiny grandson
the nurses have combed the fine black fringe
of your hair until it stands
little fir trees on a ridge

I can hold you in one hand
you drink
but not enough
so I hold you

hope to warm you now
as your mother’s womb might have
my hands too old
too cool

I will sing to you
an unending song

of your lineage
of your amazing family story

I know only a few chapters
may you learn them all

I do not want
your small fingers
to curl away from my hand


Pediatrician Kelley White has worked in inner-city Philadelphia and rural New Hampshire. Her poems have appeared in Exquisite Corpse, Rattle and JAMA. Her recent books are Toxic Environment (Boston Poet Press) and Two Birds in Flame (Beech River Books). She received a 2008 Pennsylvania Council on the Arts grant.

Return to Offcourse Index.