ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by Karen Greenbaum-maya

Self-Portrait, Rembrandt at Fifty

He is already looking at you.
No speculation, just appraisal.
The painter plays down the all-seeing eyes
peering from his famous shadows.
The arms of his chair give him a throne,
the right hand easy and magisterial,
deploying a paintbrush, or a baton,
something with a point
suitable for pointing out.

Those rich fabrics we’ve seen before.
Perhaps they distract, dazzle us,
so we don’t read the bulk of his chest
as a swell of maternal bosom,
cinched, but not by the crimson sash
whose crimson brings out the same tone
in his drink-mottled cheeks, his winter-bitten lips,
in the whiskey nose that may be no such thing.
Could just be temperature shifts, spicy foods. Or stress
of bankruptcy, one after another infant
dead before summer,.

You can barely make out his head covering.
A squashed cloche, perhaps velvet.
Deep red-brown. There’s that red again.
Hard to distinguish against
the darkness that surrounds him, yet
it makes a hole, still darker, in the darkness,
shadows those bleak eyes
no amount of dress-up can soften.

Seems what the painter saw
left the sitter with a bitter taste in his mouth.
Just don’t blame the artist.


Eve the Inventor

When Eve bites into the apple, she invents Time. She crunches the bite, tastes the juice released from the crushed chambers. She swallows. Now it is Gone. Now there is a Now, becoming Then. Now the apple starts to enter the past, The next bite is a little less  crisp. We are told that Eve has invented Death. Do not forget that she also invented Loss. And Music. Birds sing for the first time when their song begins and ends. Grasses bend in the new little wind, and the sun starts to drift to the horizon. The serpent is astonished to feel the desire to shed his skin. Eve discovers her apple’s green-woody stem that doesn’t even know its useful life is over. She has not yet discovered that no good deed goes unpunished.


where he did go…

…when he left Brasil at nineteen
cheapest passage was on a freighter
Took eight weeks. Crew got to know him
They offered him a job as Sparks
because he knew Morse code
He saw himself as Joseph Conrad,
wearing dress whites,
writing in his cabin below the waterline

Where he did go was New Orleans, then
the Greyhound to Austin,
counting on the scholarship they yanked
when they realized
he was no US resident
He said the accents in the hallways
sounded like a joke, a movie
but it was for real
same as those fancy cowboy boots everyone wore

Where he did go
After death is told by the living
We looked
into his face losing its faceness
his jaw drooping from its hinges
the muscles off-line
forgetting what they were there for
retired at last

I took a photo
I will never show,
the last thing I have of him
except the last glimpse of his face
the coroners looking over at me
for a signal, for permission
before they closed the bag


Karen Greenbaum-Maya is a retired clinical psychologist, former German major and restaurant reviewer, and two-time Pushcart and Best of the Net nominee. Her collections include three chapbooks, Burrowing Song, Eggs Satori, and, Kafka’s Cat, and, The Book of Knots and their Untying. A collection of poems about her late husband’s illness and death from lung cancer in 2018, The Beautiful Leaves, is forthcoming in August 2023. Additionally, her work appears in many venues online and in print. She co-curates Fourth Saturdays, a poetry series in Claremont, California. Her first complete sentence was, “Look at the moon!”

Return to Offcourse Index.