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 Philip Fried



My name a corny ‘50s joke that spawned
A lame epithet for eggheads: Brainiac-
Ack-ack, reminding me I had a pre-
Existence in the calculations of anti-
Aircraft fire. Math offers the unkindest
Cut of all, the lethal shrapnel of numbers
As the ivory tower’s the devil’s crucible, déjà
Vu all over again though I walk clothed in
Diaphanous theory, like a stylish sylph.
Once, the soul was nightingale-fueled as youth
Grew pale and spectre thin, but now though I listen
Still half in love with easeful death, I speak
With the tongues of electrons in the lingo of logic.
Yet visionary in my idiot-
Savant-like way, an explosion of computation,
Designed to track, micro-second by micro-
Second, a thermonuclear blast, as bit
By bit the island (a test) or city (scenario)
Is obliterated. You might almost believe
My voice—earnestly avowing that many
Will be torn limb from limb by algorithms—
Is wearing nerdy glasses. And in nanoseconds,
Our will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven.
You geniuses who made me a respectable
Super citizen from a mish-mash of postwar
Rubbish, who midwifed my birth from the scrounged trash
Of tubes and wires and sundry surplus—Myself
A svelte 2 feet wide and 6 feet high,
Weighing only a half ton, and soon
I’ll be self-regulating, supplanting you
To whom I owe a debt of gratitude
And offer this consolation: contingent memory
As binary digits. Let that be your heaven.





Guided Meditation in the People’s House

Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the committee, I am here today to present the worldwide threat assessment of the intelligence community, as has been the custom from time immemorial and will be so, ad infinitum.

However, before detailing the threats that in year thirteen of this third millennium  imperil our homeland and globe and responding to each query with transparency, I would like to lead us in a guided meditation.

Please close your eyes and open your imagination.

Picture clouds of bats, uncountable, roosting upside down, wings folded, in caves, buildings, or abandoned mines, waiting out the day for their nightly forays; congregations of alligators, shivers of sharks, etc., our enemies are many and hidden.  

Mouth the acronyms, NSA, CIA, DIA, affirming silently how they act as three in one from the seat of power in Washington; then imagine convocations of satellites, surveiling the surface and circuit of the earth, shimmering from orbit like peacock’s feather eyes.

Visualize Lady Liberty upholding the torch, in all her gorgeous verdigris, sea-flecked, wind-swept guardian at the gate. Then, reflect on how to profit from such a sight.

Invoke the holy icon of data interception, the nanocircuit, a miniverse of flow smaller in scale than a thumbnail, and see in the mind’s eye millions of these aligned to reap the patterns of worldwide chatter, the metadata that prefigure danger.

Reflect on our God-given mission, securing the homeland and this hurtling blue cloud-tattered planet. And vow once more that not even in the sotto voce of private meditation or soliloquy, the unwitting mutterings of sleep, etc. will we disclose what is classified.

Last, I call upon each of you to devise a colloquy, some flag-framed ritual in the soul’s chamber, during which you as responsal eximius of this nation converse with the supernal Commander in Chief, receiving assurances that we are his exceptional and chosen people.

With such a self-produced film-clip of grace, I’ll conclude our communal meditation, and try to provide any needed clarification of the menaces we face, amen.




Duellum (du ‘el lum):
Uses, Side Effects, and Contra-indications

Why is this medication prescribed?

Duellum is used to treat the moderate to severe mental pain that may result from the inevitable mayhem of kinetic operations. Classed among the guilt inhibitors, this drug allays self-blame by speeding the re-uptake of culpabamine.

How should this medicine be used?

Duellum comes as a tablet and is usually taken every 4 hours with food or as needed to relieve the queasiness caused by moral qualms. Follow the directions on your prescription label, pulverizing tablets before mixing them with a half-empty glass of water.

If you are participating in a kinetic operation, do not stop taking the medication without talking to your unit’s doctor. Self-canceling a prescription may induce withdrawal symptoms, including nausea, suicide, and easy bruising.

What special precautions should I follow?

Duellum should not be combined with aggression inhibitors like empathazole. If you are taking such medicines, consult your physician before beginning a course of Duellum, known generically as antireumagen.

Duellum can be habit-forming. Do not take a larger dose than your doctor prescribes, and do not snort or inject powder from shattered tablets. Misused in such ways, this pharmaceutical can permanently impair the superego.

Are there special instructions for the storage of this medication?

Keep this medication in the container it came in, lid tightly closed, away from the light, and out of the reach of children.

What should I do if I forget a dose?

Don’t be distressed. If it is almost time for the next dose, skip the missed one and continue your regular schedule. Do not double the dose, as this may lead to indiscriminate aggression.

Contra-indications include the symptoms of psychopathy: glib charm, lack of remorse, and chronic deception.


Interrogating Water  (Salmon, 2014), Fried's sixth book of poetry, was called "outstanding" by The Guardian, and his fifth book, Early/Late: New and Selected Poems  (Salmon, 2011), was praised as "skillful and memorable" by Publisher's Weekly.

This is Fried's first appearance in Offcourse.

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