ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by Philip Fried


It blindfolds the reader who, reborn
as a child at a birthday party, plays
pin the tail on someone or someplace
ridiculous, in the confusion.
It blindfolds the text so it brays
and strays from page to page
without giving testimony.
It accoutres the guards in unrippable
black fabric as well as a face
mask with a visor, to shield detainees
from encounters that are too personal.
Truth, they say, is a broken-down nag, one step
ahead of the glue factory.
These blinkers will spare it from the fret-
fulness of glimpsing a grim periphery.
Concealed by a neo-classical facade,
this office has hosted covert
chirping re wetwork code-named Cricket
and Katydid—stridulations strictly classified.
Overlook the creator's rumored infractions,
obscured anyway in the endlessness of outer
space by clumps and streams of dark matter—
the Lord G-d Y-H-W-H's redactions.



Breakthrough in a Brainstorming Session

... or what if with the back of an open hand,
fingers together, the abdomen were slapped
hard, to startle?
                                    More than acceptable,
include it in the memo!
                                    Clasping the head
so it's absolutely still, with a hand on either
side, fingers of course kept out of the eyes?
                                                                    To fix
attention! I'm sure that could be authorized.

I'm just blue-skying it, but what about
keeping the subject awake for a week while standing
stockstill in the same position?
                                                That falls well
short of unbearable pain. It qualifies!

To piggyback on a previous suggestion,
why not secure the body to a board,
then cover the face with a cloth and steadily pour
water on it?
                        Perfect, what seems bizarre
will actually spark a workable solution ...



"Loudspeaker's piercing treble"

Loudspeaker's piercing treble,
staticky, urgent: "In case
the world is ending -atick
while you are riding the Q line
and crackle stalled in the tunnel
unguided garbled important
DANGER from the electrified
third rail will hiss persist
fizz after all else is destroyed
avoid squawk and follow
the conductor mumble." Then,
"... for your cooperation."

Loudspeaker's piercing ...
                                                — God bless
this nation and what will survive us,
our values, faith, and this tapeloop —

... treble: "crackle In case ..."



These days, War ...

These days, War's a conflicted celebrity
traveling incognito, with dark glasses
over which he coyly peeks to see
if anyone notices him as he gorges himself
on ribs in the booth of an upscale eatery
or waits on line at the airport, casting himself
as a mega-hero again, daydreaming a movie
in which I alone survive the massive destruction
of every friend or anonymous enemy.

These days, War masquerades as a junior Einstein,
a tousled, techy, down-to-earth intellect
who has deduced the death of the straight line
and the obsolescence of space as a single stage
tick-tocked by a universal time.
Instead, we're blessed with a myriad now's and spaces
in which the dying and wounded howl and writhe
each a reference-body for calculating
the equations of physics for a stricken I.

These days, War portrays himself as victim
not conqueror: Think of me as one
of the countless homeless, he whines, like her or him,
ubiquitous and invisible, though sprawled
in plain view, regrettable spew of a system
whose battlefield is near, as well as far
and extolled by your patriotic anthem or hymn,
which is only the blanket that covers a casualty. Yes,
ignore me as you hum on the way to your gym.

These days, War is fed up with bad press
that emphasizes my destructive side,
and you can quote me on this. I want to stress
all the good I promote: negotiation
among nations, for instance, and proper dress
and elegant manners, mostly, at conferences.
So what if it takes a few mortar rounds, more or less,
to fire up the desire for peace. Motivation's
the key, and my argument's cogent. I trust I impress.



Words for a Cenotaph for Words

Stranger, you are facing the vacant grave
Honoring acronyms and words so brave
They sacrificed their last measure of meaning
In the War on Terror, but let there be kudos, not keening,
For letters that answered the call of our nation's fears
And battled in secret for myriads of years:

EKIA, who created a category,
The wide-open, welcoming "enemy killed in action,"
Your linking of nameless bodies to a faction
Was vital to our collateral damage story
And earned you eternal bureaucratic glory.

Find, Fix, and Finish, a kinetic trio
Your tenacity was legend in e-mail and memo,
Whether exhibited in application
To targeted kills or to family and avocation.

Indefinite Detainee, with legal prowess
You circumvented a tedious justice process
By arguing for a legalistic limbo
To correspond with a brick-and-mortar Gitmo.
Detained in figurative dust, may you Rest in Peace.

Jackpot, the jokester, you will be sorely missed
Who in your christening of successful kills
Combined the gifts of gambler and ironist.
Your humor made bearable war's unavoidable ills.

Kill Chain, who knew how to pass a fatal decision
To a superior with speed and precision,
Until the no or yes was up to POTUS,
Your deeds will be passed down, with veneration,
To every brave new succeeding generation.

Belovèd Reaper, not grim and nearly blithe,
With the buoyant spirit of an unmanned scythe,
You helped us garner joyful victory
Virtually unscathed by casualty.

Stranger, in our secure and peaceful time,
These warrior words have entered the sublime
Of the homeland's everlasting verbal hoard
On the internet's vast cyber bulletin board.
Their cenotaph's silent, to hear them spoken aloud,
You can download the Valhalla App from iCloud.


Philip Fried has just published Squaring the Circle (Salmon Poetry, Ireland, 2017), his seventh book of poetry. Thomas Lux said of his work, "I love Philip Fried's elegant quarrels with the cruelty and ignorance of the world or, more precisely, its inhabitants." Web site:  See also some of his recent work from Squaring the Circle (Salmon 2017) at:,
Fried's poem "Forecast" featured in's Letter to America series:
Fried's "MANIAC I" and two other poems by him appeared in Offcourse #62, September 2015.


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