ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by Richard Weaver

Hugh Dirty Rat

has dreams larger than a foot long hotdog with chili and sour kraut, and meaner than a rottweiler with a 2-day hangover. He dreams of his paw prints on a Hollywood sidewalk. His mouth snarl is mimicked by Mafia recruits. He wears the title well, knowing as he does he’s no sewer rat. Never was. Would rather be dead. Hugh Dirty rat is no yellow-belly and is fastidiously clean. First in line is he when fireplugs flow freely. He believes rain is his personal shower and wind the best towel. Dirty may mean dung or dirt historically, but HDR prefers a more artistic interpretation, a smudging of paint or graphite. He has posed, willingly, for many inspired city artists, ones who know the value of a white top hat, bowtie, and tastefully painted claws. Why waste time in the slime, he muses. Life is short, especially if your teeth grow too long, long enough to kill. Be the flow, not the sewage. Buck grease is not an abomination, he claims. Merely the orange wax of adolescence. His dream: wake slowly, or not at all.


Naked Mole-Rat

hangs out on a topless beach having pre-dipped himself in a vat of extra extra virgin coconut oil, Himalayan beeswax, unsalted murumuru butter, blood orange (when in season), and the heart of a munchkin for extreme sun protection. His new underground is above but under a rainbow flavored umbrella, nesting in a rope hammock, with a two foot straw slurping from a glowing, flowing Margarita glass nestled in shaved ice. He’s not at all bothered by the excess of his new lifestyle. He has only a nub of a twitching tail to subdue. And no ears at all to hear the too nearby overserved neighbors. His true blindness, eyes overlayed with a film of skin, shields him from the drunken blandness of his redneck, glass-bottled swigging, pink nosed and fuzzy faced 2 legged genome distant cousins. Oddly his wrinkled pink body has maintained its tunnel filling shape and not widened with gravity above ground. If called a sand puppy he will not fetch or rollover, bark or bite or lift a hindleg to pee. When he bares his protrusion of sharp tuber and root chomping buck teeth, he remembers the underground colony of 70 below, and the one and only dominant female who could breed. Such a looker. So many pups. 3-28 every 70 days. Eggs without end for more than 30 years. Pups weaned at 1-2 months. Females fertile after 10. Males sexual active at one year. Exhausting. A survival rate of 84%. (By comparison, from a turtle nest of 110 hatchlings, 1% survive the journey from land to sea). Imagine digging new tunnels with your front teeth. Eating and excreting dirt for 1 ½” tunnels. NMR dips himself once more in the soothing, SPF 100 pink skin saving salve. He does a deep dive, knowing his kind can live up to 18 minutes without air. Life without fear of death by cancer, with cellular regeneration is something 2 legged mammals researchers are keen to explore. Too keen. Too energetic. Always a mistake in life and love. NMR does wish his absent ears could hear whatever is thickening the air around. He feels its pulses. The throbbing. The smell of a dominant female. And wonders whether happiness is nearby.


Sphynx Rat Pulses

his large buck teeth that glow in the dark. He does not wear the shame of his name well. Without eyebrows. Without whiskers to twitch. Not a murfle to be seen. Bred wrinkled and hairless by spineless geneticists, afterlings all, his fate in the lab is not sweetened by an increased life span. The longest of any in the vast history of rodentry. His unaltered cousins average 2 years before dying. Some make it to 5. Lying out loud outliers. He has 3 decades to avoid scalpels and the unfettered imaginations of untenured Junior Faculty members. A long life with the daily threat of a quick death. His resistance to diseases related to aging keeps him alive and free from mazes. He wishes he could rummage for his food. Where’s the challenge in a ringing bell? A buzzing buzzer? Why should he reveal any secrets about the mysteries of life? Cures for cancer? Stub club, ereptile dysfunction, or mopey dick? As if a longer life was something other than a measured length. As if Death, kind and patient Death, gave a rat’s ass.


The Present Day Rat King

one of many naked mole rats, breeding males, all King for an hour, bows to his mate, naked Rat Queen, she who must shriek and skrell, who will feast on all usurpers, especially her pups, born blind to light and nursed for a short month, then ousted, if not eaten, for lesser others as fecal pap. Such eusocial behavior is a survival norm not to be judged. Sightless above ground, victims of light, they live in burrows 6 feet under where large tubers grow and eat only the inside bits so that all might regenerate. Fear of raptors above and the diurnal invasions of the rufous beaked snake below, would seem to exclude the naked mole-rat from the shortlist of long-lived rodents. Contrary to Gompertzian laws the opposite is true. They may live 30 years and are granted the proud status of non-aging mammals for biogerontology. A word with a far shorter life if you are today’s Rat King.


Post-Covid, the author has returned as the writer-in-residence at the James Joyce Pub. Among his other pubs: conjunctions, Louisville Review, Southern Quarterly, Free State Review, Hollins Critic, Misfit Magazine, Loch Raven Review, The Avenue, New Orleans Review... He’s the author of "The Stars Undone" (Duende Press, 1992), and wrote the libretto for a symphony, "Of Sea and Stars" (2005). He was a finalist in the 2019 Dogwood Literary Prize in Poetry. Recently his 190th Prose poem was published.

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