ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by Stuart Friebert


What we called kids who stuttered back when,
not knowing any better. About time FM, short
for Billie, haunted my dreams. When he tried
to talk, his whole body shook, he bent over as
if to retch, while we just stood by, laughing.

Eighty years for that to catch up to me, catch
me up but good. Mouth's getting smaller, lips
thinner, wonder what I should have said to
the gang when Billie's green eyes begged me
to help? Of all my pals, he was Gram's favorite,

those eyes, she'd sigh, like Pushkin's, whose
fading picture hung above the kitchen sink; &
whose poems she'd read to us in their Russian,
Billie alone grasping anything of their meaning,
his voice shaking the stutters when he asked

Gram to keep repeating the lines till he could
mimic them back as if a native, tottering as he
did so, nearly falling. On a whim, I googled him
& came across his obituary, died a year older
than I. Born in Berlin, to a Jewish father but

a protestant mother, which saved his life. They
hurried off a day ahead of the Gestapo. Would
our gang have behaved better if we'd known all
that? The image I can't shake now: laughing,
Billie's gums showed above his upper teeth.



                           — for SJF

Been watching our backyard birds
to see how their collective appellations
match their actions, and can confirm

chickadees excel at banditry, flickers
line up like a menorah, red-tailed hawks
well up to a boil, hummingbirds all over

the daylilies every bit a bouquet, while
the red-eyed vireos wobble the way I
used to, recovering from a hangover.

A jar of nuthatches shut tight on the ash,
swallows gulp straight up into the eaves,
but it's not them ringing away, it's my

brother from his porch on Anvil Lake,
photographing, as few have, a jubilee of
eagles, boating out later to an asylum of

loons at the lake's southern edge. I envy
him the blizzard of snowy owls winters,
while I catch the last sleeze of creepers

before they migrate, though some wrens
will chime the winter over, when I'll turn
to books for more about a murder of crows.
The folkloric root has them feeding on the dead
on battlefields, likely of Civil War origin. Grant's
said to have watched them peck away for hours.


Stuart Friebert is a frequent contributor to Offcourse.  He has new work forthcoming in Plume, Great River Review, Solstice... 

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