ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by Stuart Friebert


Half a million horseshoe crabs, I read,
are hung up each year in labs, which

partially drain off their pale blue blood,
processing it to identify bacteria present

in certain pharmaceuticals. How does
$15,000 a liter strike you as its cost?

Meanwhile, after having been bled, "Some
fifty thousand crabs never see the ocean

again, while those returned drift about
too weak to breed." Sophie Cunningham

goes on to say there are claims some labs
don't even bother returning the horseshoes

to their habitat. Time to rise from my chair,
rub my eyes; don't know whether or not I

read her words in a dream or awake. Have
we forgotten we ought at least to be looking

offended when terrible things suddenly flare
up before us? A "trigger point," my doctor says,

is where the body's most vulnerable, likely to
be the port to death. I feel like shouting, "Okay,

come on, hurry up!" But once again, reading of
yet another "bleed," my mouth opens slowly, as

if I were falling asleep. Time was, we could whistle,
"There are lots of good horseshoe crabs in the sea."



the U.S. executed, ran the boardinghouse
where John Wilkes Booth planned killing

Lincoln, though evidence of her guilt was
conflicting, I read. Her hangman fashioned

a noose with just five loops, not the usual
thirteen, hoping it would break because he

thought her innocent, then ran like mad
when her body began jerking. I'd still be

running if I'd been he, shouting "seize me,
murder," run on till I was old, covered with

stains, rumors spreading I'd hurled myself
off a cliff. "Let me alone, let me die in peace,"

would be my last words. Meanwhile, I hope
someone anointed his feet, washed them in

tears, healed his suffering. Yes, suffering!
Wouldn't Lincoln agree, whose enemies

behaved as if fourscore more years would
not be enough to erase what he'd wrought?



Alex's last words to Irene Pepperberg, his longtime pal,
before she put him back in his cage for the night, I read.

African gray parrots normally live twice as long as Alex,
who only made it to 31. We can likely barely imagine her

grief, who'd long partnered with him to prove he had brain
power right up there with chimps and toddlers; at times

beyond it seemed, for she concluded he also had a sense
of abstract ideas, could chat "with cogency and feeling." 

All this inclines toward mysticism. A mind begins to ache.
We ought to know things without explanation, cry openly

when things go wrong, creatures die. Instead I'm inclined
to stamp my feet, look haggard, risk looking directly at

the sun. For all the times, I should be dead of melanoma,
or at least blind as my old professor. Here he is, coming

down the road, propped up by two canes, his nurse ready
to steady him if. Ask him how he is and he'll say, "Well,

my liver's this, my kidney's that, and my ticker's tiring,
but personally I feel wunderbar," then poke you in a rib

with a bony finger. "You be good, now" he says. "See you
tomorrow," I say. "I love you," he says to his nurse, aglow.



Dick is what you might name your mockingbird
if like Thomas Jefferson you'd spent Cucillin,
Bergere & Fingal naming horses and sheepdogs.

Mimus polyglottos, many-tongued mimic, Dick,
who cost the president $10, serenaded him with
Scottish and French songs after first renditioning

the local birds, while my mother's, which cost
her $125, didn't deliver on the store's promise,
could barely emit the species harsh tschak! No

wonder, the autopsy showed a malformed syrinx.
Pete's Pets talked her into going with a budgie,
instead: "It'll be lots easier to care for, and it can

vocalize almost as well as the mocker; eats cheap."
So Tom was the first of dozens that kept us company
at breakfast for years, his cage left open so he could

take food from her lip, play back whatever she sang,
make her laugh like a little girl, make it ever clearer
she was more comfortable in Tom's company, to put

it one way. The day he disappeared she ran from one
window to another, suspected I'd left the milk chute
open behind his cage. "You could have opened it,

right?" she raised her voice. I swore the door was
shut the morning minus Tom. Gramma chimed in,
"No more tears, we just go out and get Harry now!"



Imagine being stitched flank to flank
through the skin with another human

to share one circulatory system, even
if the procedure's pain and stress free,

I read, all in service of ageing research.
Write for a free copy of the NIH Guide

for the Care and Use of Lab Animals if
you have nothing better to do and need

a fat headache to replace one from too
much imbibing, not to mention watching

too much Cable News. Enough said, oder?
my German poet-pal writes, as disturbed

as we are about "Agent Orange," Spike Lee's
appellation for who's in the White House now,

to whom so many fellow souls seem stitched.
Remember the DTs, delirium tremens, at times

fatal episodes caused by abstinence, following
habitual excessive drinking? These things, I try

writing her, are perhaps so because some covet
what others produce, less what's their own; but

she reminds we honor understanding each other,
if at times in joyful confusion, not afraid of truth.



None other than St. Gertrude, I read,
startled. So, maybe not a coincidence

that my mother's name was Gertrude!
She'd take in stray cats and later when

she was wheelchaired order my father
to feed the outsiders too nervous to risk

joining the inside clowder. Her favorite,
Moliki, she said was sheer black with

a white nose though we never saw him.
She could also disappear at times behind

a crossword, slurping another Blatz, off
to where it was impossible to follow. Over

the years, visiting less often, we were only
faintly aware of the odor of ammonia until

the house had to be scrubbed to sell, mom
and dad moved into a facility. Let us now

drink a glass to the bitter end of those days.
We placed what kittens were left crouching

under chairs and beds with neighbor children,
who pressed them against their chests, quickly

renamed them, while we slowly went back
to our own furniture, a crazy look to our eyes.



              "It is a joy to be hidden, but a disaster not to be found"
              (D.W. Winnicott)

Psychologists call the sudden insight
infants barely half a year old come to

that objects and people as well exist
even though they can't see them, so

of course peekaboo gives rise to glee.
"Fort," Freud's little grandson Ernst

crooned when he'd throw a wooden  
spool attached to a piece of string out

his playpen, then cried "Da" reeling it
back up again, while Freud watched him

for hours, sending up smoke rings from
his cigar to add to Ernst's amusement,

making copious notes for a paper he'd call
"repetition compulsion," choking off worries;

Ernst's father off at the front, his mother
ill, with not much longer to live. Suddenly,

no more "fort" and "da" in the air, Freud
looked back at Ernst, who'd laid his head

on both arms and fallen asleep. Puffing at
his cigar, breathing hard, Freud sat waiting.


These poems will be aboard A Double Life: In Poetry & Translation, out in the fall of 2019 from Pinyon Publishing. Shadow of Shadows: Selected Poems of Ute von Funcke, in which poems first published in Offcourse appear, will be out in 2020 from Black Mountain Press.

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