ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


New Poems by Stuart Friebert


Inasmuch as rivers don't run straight more than
ten times their width, the one we're fishing must

have been altered by human hands, which perhaps
explains why the bass Whitt releases has ugly rusty

spots on its fins. I'm an octo now,  Whitt adds "pus,"
because I retreat more and more into my hidey hole,

solitary to a point of worry, "gloomier than you used
to be," Whitt says, my buddy from way back, who's

on my case when I pretend he took a better bend in
life's stream: "Don't mess with me, you were born to

compete. Me, I never gave a shit, just wanted enough
so's I could live near water, catch enough fish to eat,

keep the suffering and remorse to a minimum the rest
of you were headed for, like that hole there!" he yells,

shoving me aside in the nick of time. When we were kids
he'd taught me water flowing over an underwater ridge

drops suddenly, speeds way up, then falls down lower than
the water around, kills you just like that between the flows. 


Look it up: "Patches of superfine silt
in the slowest part of rivers." Can't help
thinking Virginia's last steps might have
sunk pleasurably and brought her to

a stop, till the stones pressed against
a hip, jolting her on down to the bed.
A life spent looking at things less simply
than the rest of us, once tuned up won't

stop playing, is how my banjo-strumming
pal put it. He'd written her a number of
songs she'll never hear. Hiking a river in
Massachusetts another lifetime ago —

we were both teaching at Mt. Holyoke,
and lived in Dickinson House – we joked
our next jobs should deposit us in Woolf
House, given our pledge to read every

single phoneme she ever published, which
journey began with Night and Day, an early
novel we were on a mission to elevate to
Conference-Heights on the Academic trail.

So hard to appreciate the twists and turns
of  mind without her signature sharpness,
perhaps it's best to pull our caps down over
our brows, pick up a stone, skip it across

the divide to her side, then whirl and walk
back up the path, hoping to see a rook free
of the flock in Night and Day, perching on
a cow's backside over there by the fence.


"The line defining the lowest points
along a river bed or valley," I read,
"which lawyers employ to test legal
property limits, to hydrologists a line
of fastest, deepest water to a river,
underwater and invisible." I came

to it through German studies: "Weg"
is cognate with way,  "Thal" with "dale,"
which we'd bust out singing – "Over hill,
over dale…" on hikes in the Harz Mountains,
looking for the hut on whose wall Goethe
is said to have carved his most famous poem,

"Über allen Gipfeln // ist Ruh // in allen Wipfeln
// spürest du // kaum einen Hauch"…  While he
was able to visit the hut fifty years later, not long
before he died, and cried, it has since disappeared.
Can't help thinking when he found it there was
nothing else for him to look for, and was perhaps

afraid, yes, really seemed to be afraid to run his
fingers over it one last time. And what about our
walking up and down the spot for several hours?
Back at the Technische Hochschule, we were told
we looked a little thinner and a rumor spread we
had come down with something communicable.

Stuart Friebert's published 15  books of poems, most recently DECANTING: New & Selected Poems/ Lost  Horse Press, which has also published two of his 15 volumes of  translations, most recently VOTIVES: Selected Poems from the Literary  Remains of Kuno Raeber. The current Antioch Review has his essay, "Lost  in Translation" aboard. Pinyon Publishing will release another  translation tome: SCANT HOURS: Selected Poems of Elisabeth Schmeidel in  the Spring.

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