ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by Kelley White


            Teresa of Avila

To burn while living, to take in nothing
but the host, and a sip of wine until
all soft tissue falls away—we are still,
quiet, calm and contained, at peace within

that majestic scaffolding, skeleton
and skull, our prayers are grain sent to the mill
of the Lord to be ground for his bread, full
of ourselves, the selves we reject, unspun

from the web of spider sin, we are silk
to be woven into God’s glory, thin
threads of refined silver, gold, meshed threads

in fine cloths, and yet we weep mother’s milk;
even our naked feet are but poor kin
to our beloved husband’s sandaled tread.


House for All People

you speak of magnificent stone churches
in now crumbling neighborhoods
and how, working for the census,
you found the modest rowhome
where you grandfather lived
after abandoning your grandmother,
your father, uncle, and young aunt,
to live with his bigamous new family

and now you’ve found this new aunt,
only a few years older than you,
who is the oldest of your generation
and here lives the House of Prayer
for All People with its impossibly
grandiose twin gilded lions
and not even a block away from
an earlier self, smaller, less strident

self that states that it is the Original
House of Prayer and on a banner flies
in sepia a little rickety unpainted
clapboard house with a crowded porch
and hand-lettered sign United House
of Prayer for All People
and you speak again of the great stone

churches some become condos and others
doctors offices or banks
some moved from synagogue to bible-centered
to mosque and we find that grandfather
buried with relatives you didn’t know
were yours in an unmarked plot
in a catholic cemetery mourned only
by this woman who thought she was his
only child


In the Garden of Prayer

five Laudable Conditions of the Blessed Virgin

When that angel came I was already on my knees
scrubbing the stones in the entryway. I cannot remember
if it was in sunlight or in shadow but I remember it was hard
at first to see the face and so I was disquieted. I tried to stay
bowed but a bit of water spilled and I lifted my eyes
to the bucket and then I saw just the hem of a radiant garment
and my thoughts raced and then settled: what would be must
be allowed. I collected my skirts in one hand and raised myself
to my elbow, then to my full height for I would ask this being
a question. Why have you come? What is your intention?
When his breath touched my face, a scent of rosewater with a hint
of sage and mint, a hint of something a bit dangerous, hard, I knew
I must bow to a task which could only be accomplished by one
brave and honest, one faithful and trusting, a woman I must
become and I pitied the girl I was now, who could not deserve
to hear this stranger’s voice.

five Stages of Grief

They sent two weeping women to convince me that my son
was dead. Yes, I had knelt all those storming thunderous hours
beneath the cross, observed his suffering, seen his wounds,
the mocking crown, the vinegar, the swords, the spears. I had shot
anger from my eyes toward his tormentors, stuck with my hands
those followers who failed to come to his aid. I had seen the body
taken down and held it breathless to my broken heart. I bargained again
with that angel of memory who failed to keep his promises. I was not
most fortunate of women. I was not most honored or blest. I was nothing.
A poor old woman, deprived even of grandchildren. My tears were rust.
Falling on his face. I bowed my head again to cold wet stones. Only then
did I believe he could die. Only then did I let the women lift me.
Let them take the body. No longer my son. No such eternal life.


Pediatrician Kelley White has worked in Philadelphia and New Hampshire. Poems have appeared in Exquisite Corpse, Rattle and JAMA. Her most recent chapbook is A Field Guide to Northern Tattoos (Main Street Rag Press.) Recipient of 2008 Pennsylvania Council on the Arts grant she is Poet in Residence at Drexel’s Medical School. Her newest collection, NO HOPE STREET, was recently published by Kelsay Books.

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