ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by Patricia Phillips-Batoma

The nature of light

Lately I’ve been thinking
about the nature of light,
with all this heavy news of war
and children running
from smoldering cities.

Unless they encounter matter,
electromagnetic waves
travel forever, to infinity,
wherever that edge exists
at the end of time.

We are the opposite of light,
hard machinery hovering
in each cell’s cytoplasm, matter
inside matter, water inside air
inside an atmosphere.

The only soft thing
I do each day
is make my daughter’s lunch.
Package everything
in neat transparent parcels,
orange rounds, apples
peeled and sliced,
toasted sandwich, cookies
in a shiny, sealed wrapper.

I puzzle it all into a zippered bag
like a collection of presents
for some occasion, proof
of what the universe
still offers across the cold,
vast distances.


A row of apple trees

Bright white blossoms,
now all spent.

Brown scent
lingers pungent in the air,

falls in droplets,
finds me lingering there,

under gnarly branches, veined
grandmotherly hands.


Still here

In a catalog of Spring fashions for women, promises are sprouting
all that is imaginable in the new season. In a flowered blue blazer

over a bright yellow shift, the gaping, tawny blonde simply cannot believe
the something amazing she sees. And the other one, brunette with a pixie cut,

cute eyes, in that pastel blouse she laughs like nobody ever told her
that joke before. Everywhere they are looking up, turning around

and finding themselves in the center of so much light. Not a single intractable
spring uncoiled. I flip from page to page mindlessly, trying to think practically,

imagining my post-everything body in all these clothes, feeling desperately empty
of the joy on sale here, on clearance if you turn to the back pages. What is it

we remedy with these patterns of all varieties, stripes, polka dots? Yesterday
someone I know wore a soft, loose blouse of silk with warm paisley patterns

on a creamy white background, I longed to touch. But she was as cranky as ever,
and it did not beautify her, as she is even older than I, and nothing will hide that,

no hair dye, no foundation, no magic cream. Fashion is a language says the French
philosopher Barthes, a system of signaling. An SOS perhaps, we are still here, breathing.


Patricia Phillips-Batoma is a French to English translator and teaches translation in the Program for Translation and Interpreting Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She lives and writes in central Illinois. She has published poems in Tuck Magazine, Offcourse, Parentheses, and Plants and Poetry. She can be reached at [email protected]

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