ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

A journal for poetry, criticism, reviews, stories and essays published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998.


Poems by Stuart Friebert.

                                   —for Shimon

“No precious gems, no gold, no other such riches.
Just 1,963 bags of potatoes, 28 bags of sticks, 76
cases of dragon’s blood, a plant resin; also orchids,
lace collars, sardines, mushrooms, a case of toothpaste,
not to forget a huge number of shelled walnuts, though
not enough alas to keep it afloat. Nor could the most
valuable commodity aboard, millions of dollars of feathers:
40 cases of plumes for New York’s milliners…” I read.

Tell me what God punished the passengers for,
I ask my rabbi, petting his guide dog till he says,
“Please, not when she’s working.” We’re walking along
the local reservoir’s rim, where little toy boats set afloat
yesterday at a town-wide picnic still haven’t decided to
sink. Some have their little decks awash with trinkets little
children’s hands stowed aboard. Lately I’ve been feeling
God’s about to punish me for disobeying Him, which my
rabbi senses. “One may live without father or mother, but
not without God,” he says, tightening the dog’s leash,
“She’d rather jump in for a swim than listen to us old farts.”

“So when will they stop diving down to explore the wreck?”
I say when we’re back for hummus and crackers, a little glass
of wine from the Galilee. “Not until the ship gives up its last
shred, and Jonah comes out of a dark recess, stroking his red
beard, ordering them back up to the rest of their unholy lives.”
My rabbi’s winking in his fashion, “Good old Jonah, good boy!”




Mostly we swam in the stream’s one deep muddy ditch,
but some Catholic kids begged to be baptized there till
Father Feite, a priest displaced in WW II, slipped and went
under for some scary minutes. When he shot back up, he
hollered something in Dutch, which didn’t seem too holy,
his vintage grin swamping his ruddy face. Everything else

would have been all right if some parents hadn’t questioned
his wisdom, trying his patience enough to request a transfer.
Father Sturm, his replacement, got the town to post the hole,
which of course led to some kids drowning there afterward.
The plaque with their names, and the name of one boy’s dog,
has since been washed away in Lodi’s ugly floods. I went back

last year to trace some memories. No one around remembered
their names, but the old barber said, “Peggy, that was the mutt’s
name. I know because my pop sold it to his pop one winter, best
hunting hound this side of the Mississippi.” The sign on his wall said
“Flat-tops are free,” in memory of the kids who’d lost their lives.
“Just a trim,” I said, when he tightened the smock around my neck.



                                           — Gordon Fraser, The Quantum Exodus

Decent sailors by all reports, Schrödinger and Einstein
got in some R&R in their Berlin days together eddying

around on Berlin’s outlying lakes before skies darkened
by Nazi doings sent them off to other waters to the west.

In the only picture they’re so tiny it makes you laugh to
to look at them, their eyes ablaze as if they understand

everything. One has no business there, but the other might,
you think, what with more and more records getting vetted.

Alas, no one else was aboard to record their conversations,
except for a cat curled under the jibboom. Perhaps they just

talked about domestic matters – women sometimes surely
preoccupied them. Perhaps just about the wind and waves,

which might have led to equations if they’d had a blackboard.
At any rate, there were no scandals on the horizon yet. Look

how alone they are in their laughter! Do they want us to open
another beer, shout things like “we never expected you to…?”

Time to turn the page, leave them to their heavens, all smeared
with dark to the mind’s eye. Everything’s less and less clear now.


Stuart Friebert published two collections in May, 2014: his 13th book of poems, "Floating Heart" (Pinyon Publishing); and his 10th
translation-volume, "Puppets in the Wind: Selected Poems by Karl Krolow" (Bitter Oleander Press). Black Mt Press will publish his story collection, "The Language of the Enemy," in the fall of 2014.

His work appears in Offcourse #56.

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