ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by Devon Balwit

An Innocent Question

What are you reading these days?
Balzac, I answer, unable, for the life of me,
to make it sound like anything
but ball-sack, and me already shy
about my canonical predilections.

Ball-sack is teaching me the craft
of a perfect sentence, how to match
setting with character. Through him, I
arrive agog in the big city while,
all around, cynics seek to deflate me.

A Rastignac, I flush at what I glimpse
beneath peignoirs, trip over my own feet,
open doors into the wrong rooms. Ambition
sends me into battle where the entrenched
do their best to unhorse me.

At night, I set the master like an eyelid
over two translations, variations drawn
into sleep. What work to convey the long-gone
to those caught up in their own passing—
the way nothing and everything changes.


Takeaway from Gogol’s “The Nose”

Like Major Kovalyov, your nose has quit you
for a frolic, revealing a flat place large enough
for a cup. How will you teach now?

Already, too many students don’t engage
their cameras, leaving you, like your nose,
to wonder what is so entertaining

elsewhere. No one you complain to understands
the indignity, the humiliating erosions of age.
Your former beauty struts past your window,

yukking it up with your nose. You follow
although you suspect you’re unwelcome.
You can already hear their snickers

once quit of you, the snarky texts
recruiting more parts to jump ship.
What a pathetic remnant you’re left with.


תְּקֵ֥ל / Tekel

My husband weighs chess pieces
as I weigh rejections. Each gets

its moment of scrutiny—pawn,
rook, queen, the handful of poems—

a displacement captured
in hair-fine divisions.

Staunton, Northern Upright,
Zagreb and Dubrovnik

have their backers. How to argue
with a preference for bishops that smile,

an editor’s aversion to sonnets
or the left-hand margin? Something

draws the eye, feels right
in the hand. Jumbled with those

cast aside, I believe, nonetheless,
that I harbor a detectable grandeur.


Devon Balwit walks in all weather. Her most recent collections are We Are Procession, Seismograph [Nixes Mate Books, 2017], Dog-Walking in the Shadow of Pyongyang [Nixes Mate Books, 2021] and Spirit Spout [Nixes Mate Books, 2023]. For more, visit:

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