ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by Sarah White

The Village of Small Surprises

 There was a house we called
“the Rider House” although
the Waldrons lived there.
It was the Riders
who had sold it
to the Waldrons, who had to sell it
and leave town before we named
the house for them.

Mrs. Martha Hawley bought
the Borthwick House. She had it
remodeled to show off her Persian
carpets, formal portraits, French
and English furnishings. The villagers
never called it the Hawley House.
They preferred to remember Irma Borthwick
and her famous collections: the brass, bone,
pearl and ivory buttons she displayed on velvet trays
alongside the African violets
that thrived in her humid parlor.

Speaking of Africans,  a  U.N. delegate
traveled to  a conference in the village.
(Our tiny town had global aspirations,
and an “Institute on Man and Science.”)
Billeted in Mrs. Hawley’s home,
the diplomat marveled  to discover,
a hundred miles north of New York City,  
a hostess dressed and coiffed
in such citified style, not
to mention the décor she revealed
 when she opened her front  door.

“Ah, Senegal!“ she exclaimed
“home of the great
Léopold Sédar Senghor!”

“Heavens! You know Senghor?  Which
of his poems have you most enjoyed?”

The lady blushed,
She had acquired
Poèmes de la négritude
recently in Paris.
Even now, it can be found,
on a  shelf she reserves
for the works she plans to read
the first chance she gets.


Ballade for October, 1871 

Awful dots and dashes cross
the transatlantic wires—
word of a devastating Fire
borne on burning slips of paper
over the Chicago River
to fill the heads of travelers
with  migraine, vertigo, and fever.

Gone,  great fortunes, gone long labors,
gone, North Side, gardens, silver
in the safes—the molten spoons

and Mama’s china bonbonniere,
library, and hidden stair.

(The news, received in Paris,
fills frail Julia’s head with molten lead, she says.
She holds her Diary in the hotel bed
and draws the diagram of what’s to be lamented.—

the plans, the formal and informal rooms,
the tool sheds, parterres, alcoves, corners, doors,
portraits of young brothers—boys she’d never known,
deceased too soon,
letters from noted men her father knew:
Fenimore Cooper, James Buchanan,
not to mention her own albums
in the private studio, the pianoforte, 

the upstairs room
she’d said she planned to decorate in pink and grey.
Her books of drawings. Where are they?
How well they burn—and, look, 

the twenty-five dollies, poor wretches,
all roasted in turn*                        

Paris, where, the year before,
the Gardens of the Tuileries,
were burnt and eaten. The poor,
as hungry soldiers do, ate rats
in alleys and in zoos.

One year later
she inscribes and sings
her own inventory of burnt things.

         *Julia Newberry`s Diary, (New York, W.W.Norton, 1933), page 168)


a memory, a lake

She still hears the sound of her name
in his voice, still sees a kind
young man standing on the sand
and gravel floor of the lake. He holds

his arms open like a door
while, through a cloud
of August algae, she dog-paddles
toward him and he gathers her in. 

What if no one had been there
to commend her first solo swim? 
It has been so many years since then. 

Did he go on to live a long life?
Did he have kids of his own?
If he married, who was his wife?


Author Sarah White tells us her lyric memoir, The Poem Has Reasons: a Story of Far Love, is forthcoming in the course of 2022 from Dos Madres Press.  She will be moving this coming spring from New York City to South Hadley, Massachusetts. 

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