ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Three Poems by William Welch


(lines in quotes are from Robert Bly’s poems “The Pistachio Nut,” “Listening to Old Music,” and “Hiding in a Drop of Water”)

For Orin Domenico

“Like a note of music, you are about to become nothing.”
Is that what the trumpet tells the trumpeter?

He puts his lips to the mouthpiece, and sees a face
reflected in the brass with an anteater’s grin. He breathes

in, as though he is about to blow on the first coals of a cold
fire, then gives all of his breath to E flat. Next what? 

It’s funny the way snow seems permanent in late January.
Small flakes keep falling, trees bow under the weight.

Maybe it isn’t mass that makes gravity work.
“Maybe silence. The speed of the soul leaping over fences”

while the shoveler goes on spading snow creates that
sense of falling toward a center. When it’s quiet,

I feel how heavy my bones are. I want to sing,
even if what I sing has no melody, just a low hum,

a groan, like the bedouin women used to mourn.
“Well, music, go on growling about God.”

I like the way an alto saxophone comes apart
at the end of the night—how the reed pops out

like the tongue of Orpheus when the Maenads butchered him
because he spent too much time alone singing.

The drum kit and the trombone both try to warn us—
“Whatever happens to me will also happen to you.”

This snow is already melting. If you look close, you can see
the names of all the rivers of the world.

I stop a moment to watch my breath rise upward—
“I am ready to praise all great musicians.”



(lines in quotes are from Theodore Roethke’s poems “The Motion,” “What Can I Tell My Bones?” “The Rose” and “Root Cellar.”)

“Knowing how all things alter in the seed,”
she took apart the milkweed pods and picked out

from wax-colored floss inside each—small flat periods,
wrapped these together in a plastic bag,

then placed the bag on a freezer shelf, for only once
frozen will they grow. Some life must endure the cold

before it can tolerate and make use of sunlight.
“It is difficult to say all things are well—”

to affirm that given time even the pebbles of this earth
will sprout into their own being, as they have again

and again, and what we struggle toward will survive.
To acknowledge that “I” is only one permutation of a shape,

human, and incremental—that we are the infinite holding its breath,
counting one, two, three so life may develop its own rhythms.

We lend time a voice; we define a motion for dance, for singing.
Meanwhile, the stratified seeds stored in the freezer begin to change.

They are single points in time from which multiple summers emerge
“down in the corner of the garden, among the raggedy lilacs.”

She who waits for them to change, herself is changing.
She understands no single answer responds to winter.

Plays Winterreise. She experiences enough about suffering
to gauge how little she has suffered—how cold preserves

the messenger so its message may reach an ear. Who understands
the verb to listen better than the earth? It hears what every seed

has to say, and keeps their secrets. She carries them, ready,
cupped in her hands. “Nothing would give up life.” 



(lines in quotes are from Gerald Stern’s poems “The Faces I Love,” “Picking the Roses,”
and “Sometimes When I Close My Eyes.”)

“In the end my stillness will save me.”
After all of the chores are done, after

the medicine is chewed and eaten, after
blankets are wrapped around a man’s body

to keep him warm, and his mouth is cleaned, after
his tears have been wiped away with cotton gauze,

then I will remember again my years of practice
spent learning how books lie motionless on tables

until someone opens them, and how the millet seed
a chickadee discards sinks in gradual plummet

through wet snow. I can dwell on how my grandmother
folded her hands whenever she sat, ready to listen,

and sort out my afternoon, borrowing her silence.
“I will collect all the stupidity and sorrow

of the universe in one place” and conduct
my own auto-da-fé, burning this time

what should have burned before, burning the gold
watches and plumed hats, burning the harpoons,

burning silk neckties, and every map on which
cartographers wrote names without permission

from the land and the people. Every fanatic
will be made to study the etymology of “compassion.”

Then I can rest for a few days at home,
“hoping that my odd mind will keep me going.”

I will adopt one pose that will work for a lifetime,
as committed as a tree which knows it can never walk away.

Author William Welch lives in Utica, NY where he works as a registered nurse. His poetry has appeared in various journals, recently in Little Patuxent Review, Nine Mile Magazine, and Offcourse. He edits Doubly Mad for The Other Side of Utica ( You can find more about him on his website,

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