ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by Sarah White


When, as a girl, I was very, very homesick,

I found a way of weeping
while wearing absolutely
no expression on my face.
When someone asked
about the tears, I’d reply
“It’s an allergy. There’s pollen in the air.”

I was like the day-old kitten
that doesn’t call for what it wants but only
shapes a silent “meow” with its  small mouth,
as I could have explained, but to say
aloud “cat” or “cry”
would have been enough
to crack the ice and flood the place.
Later, when my sweetheart died,

I stood, cheeks dry, beside his grave,
hearing others say good-bye. When my turn
came, instead of sharing memories
of our time together, I read
a poem of my own, choosing lines
that did not include his name,

or mention evening walks
beside a lake where we heard cries
of anxious geese
whose young were preparing
for a long, blind flight to a place
so far from home that, when  
I saw the wings recede,
recede, I at last

began to grieve.  


Of the World  (Hospital Notes)

A patient in the room
next door howls
as if she couldn’t stand
the pain, as if this were
the end of the whole
blue-green world.

But now her cries subside.
Perhaps she’s died.
If she’s alive, she’s calm
and the world is fine again,
after all, with holiday
lights and Christmas shows
in town,

and  why bother to warn her
that the planet has a lot
more flaws these days
than it had before?—It’s way
too cold in this place and
in that place too hot, not
enough water in some rivers but more
and more along the shore, the bridges out,
the tunnels gone, the windows leaking
in many schools and coral reefs are pale

while blasts of heat burst from the depths
into the surface seas, of which
we were given more             
than enough from the start,        
as Voltaire  wrote long ago
in his tale  “Plato’s Dream”—
about all those wet lakes,
venomous snakes,
piles more sand
than people  need,
those deadly germs,
not to mention fatal levels  
of human bêtise.

I was wrong. The woman’s
still alive, and still protests
(as the nurses turn her
to prevent sores in bed).

In pain, the human vocal cords, lips,
tongue, palate and teeth together
utter “O”s.  How come?
Is the vowel useful??

I’ve never met anyone who knows.


Family Stanzas

I wish I still had a brother.
We were starting to get along better.
We lived miles from one another.
Then we grew closer.

We had little in common 
besides the same mother,
a burden to him,
to me just a bother.

He disliked democrats,  poets,
and his hippy nephews, my children.
To his wife such persons were poison.
She was fond of her husband
and even her mother-
in-law, but of most of us, not at all. 

One day, my brother Bill woke up widowed,
and orphaned as well, as he’d long
wished to be, free
to court Barbara,
who heard his life story
and said: Given your childhood
and that of your sister, you both
deserve to be misanthropes
but why not try getting along, you two?
She signed us up for an art class together.

His new wife and I took a shine to each other
I made a painting of their favorite tree.
He made a nice frame,
hung the work on their stairway.
He didn’t mind seeing
something of mine every day.

He would not go so far
as to read my poems.
That was o.k. with me. He seemed glad
I was part of the family
and yet not a ninny.

Leaving my job in mid-
Pennsylvania, I came to live
a few miles from their place. 
But by then they were gone. 
Before I was settled,
he took his heart to the hospital
and never came home.

Soon after losing him,
Barbara herself became gravely ill.
(I had hoped he would leave her to me in his will.)
She endured a year
alone with her illness,
grief, and phone calls
from friends and children (his, hers)
but even the woeful spaniel’s moans
(the dog that’s gone now)
could not make her well,
or keep her at home.

They’re both lost to me
but they’re somehow together.

I wish I still had a brother. 


Distant Sister

Midnight.  Outside the window
there’s just enough light
to see a moth by.
I sit at the keyboard and sing
what the Countess
sings when she’s alone
in the second act.

I’ve never had a high A,
so I take it an octave lower
than she,

imitating the slow cavatina—oom,
pah, pah, ornament, oom,
pah, trill, until she
pauses and cries Oh,
bring back my treasure!

Her hanky
falls into the garden,
like a parachute.

She has invited the God of Love
to let her die
but he finds it impossible
from this moment on.


Author Sarah White has moved from New York City to a kindly retirement village in Western MA where she continues to write and paint. Come visit her there.

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