ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by Claire Scott

What Would You Have Chosen

For sure I would have chosen the golden calf
Moses was taking far too long up there
on that mountain top, maybe got lost
or was shredded by snarling lions
and who is this fellow anyway who we trusted
to take us out of Egypt
we never did a background check
or asked for a CV
at least if the calf can’t answer prayers
can’t promise good harvests
and dozens of healthy sons
it can be melted down
and used to buy fine raiment
bedecked with glittering sapphires

For sure I would have worshipped the glowing calf
after waiting forty days and forty nights
in this arid desert with its infernal heat
for sure I would have joined the dancing
and raucous revelry to celebrate the new god
slipping off with Rachel, with Aaron, with Ruth,
too falling down drunk to care
about what had become of Moses
who is coming down right now
wreathed in wrath
tossing tablets
passing out swords to kill the infidels
over three thousand died that day
including me

So maybe it wasn’t the best choice
although it was one hell of a party
sometimes I pray to Moses’ god
hoping to rise again
into this eye-blinking world that has no
need for gods tucked into interstitial spaces
no need for gods to dilute its gleaming wonder
yet still at times I dream of that golden calf



I wasn’t there the first time round when
                  the faithful were promised salvation

my life lived in lower case
                  scribbled in six point font

smalling down to avoid scorch marks and ropey scars
                  looking for off ramps to distract

like the elastic of cotton underpants snapped
                  against a six year old belly

like pins stuck in finger tips until my hands
                  looked like puppet porcupines

graduating to pills and white powder
                  the seduction of poisoned apples

                  my therapist says it’s a vegetative state

like the rotting eggplant and wilted lettuces
                  in my forlorn refrigerator

unlearning hunger, unlearning hope

but if you are still there and not mired
                  in the swales of depression

watching your lambs with wolves’ faces
                  fouling your six-day world

I am more than willing to share my Zoloft my Seroquel
                  my Abilify if you think it would help

I know my prayers are maimed
                  and mangled and misdirected

I know the golden calf looms luminous
                  with its promise of white powder

But I missed you the first time round
                  will you die again for me


The Stone Woman Gets Up Dancing
                  Song of the Precious Mirror Samadhi
by Dongshan Liagjie

The void of you swells and numbs
like anesthesia before a filling

nothing is possible since

you ended, the edges of you so easily erased
leaving me sealed in suspended time

I wear my story like a black armband
or a winter coat made of stone

We interrupt your grief to announce the first yellow crocus
was sighted at the corner of Melrose and Madison

who am without a mother who couldn’t
my rage wrapped like a worn sweater

touching bruises and scars over and over
the way a tongue settles on a sore tooth

a hotline dialed at midnight
what is your address? hello! hello!

We interrupt your rage to watch moonlight
swaying muslin curtains in a wide window                             

I think maybe life isn’t for everyone

I hear an undersong stirring
unlocking loss, softening betrayals

who will I be without the hard crust of habit
without static stories and unshed tears

who will I be when the stone woman gets up dancing
skirts flaring, bare legs flashing

I reach for the familiar, dark and songless
afraid to let myself happen again



You remember don’t you?
being buried at the beach
your arms, your legs, your feet, your belly
scattered seashells as decoration
like sprinkles on a birthday cake
giggling and begging for more! more!
(but don’t put sand on our faces
so we can breathe and see the sun)

You remember don’t you? racing
through cemeteries, checking all the stones
to see who can find the oldest
the youngest, the most in one family
shouting and laughing, playing
hide and seek in the land of the dead
(but never at night when unseen spirits
rise and seize our souls)

What of the diary you kept?
pretending you have only one year left
following Stephen Levine’s exercises
learning to live mindfully each moment
so the living lasts longer
(but like a high school play we know it isn’t real
we will wipe off our makeup
toss our diaries aside, sleep in soft beds
knowing we will wake the next day
and the next and the next)

We practice as though it will
make a difference when our death
arrives wearing a dark suit, with a silver scarf
or a tie, stiletto heels or canvas sneakers,
holding a scythe, finger-bones pointing
checking our names off on his bulky ledger
or clicking her tongue (in sympathy or satisfaction?)
pressing a thumb on our throats and we smile
as though death is a bus stopping for us
and we simply step on



Good god, why would anyone murder
his own mother?
You have got to be kidding.
That sweet old clichéd lady rocking
in the corner, softly humming
to herself? He kills her?
The protagonist kills her?
The audience won’t buy it.

What’s that you say? He murdered his mother
because his mother killed his father?
She pretended she was glad to see him
after he was stuck for ten years with no Wi-Fi
in some god forsaken place in northern Turkey,`
and then she stabbed him in his alabaster bath,
blood flowing all over the marble floor? No money
to be made on this. Definitely double X rated.

Wait, there’s more? The mother’s lover
is part of the plot as well? Because the lover’s
own father was tricked into eating
his sons by our protagonist’s grandfather?
And the lover’s sister is also his mother?
No one could possibly follow this byzantine plot.
And didn’t you say the father killed his own
daughter, our protagonist’s older sister,
in order to make the winds blow, so he could sail
off to Troy and slaughter even more people?

Sorry, buddy. No go. But you have another script?
This one about fifty daughters marrying fifty sons
and killing almost all of them on their wedding
night…because an oracle…
Allow me to show you the door.


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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