ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by Philip Fried

Time's Wonders

Prince Hamlet is overeager to lunge with his saber
at the rat behind the arras. We'll teach him to drink
deep, before he departs our stage, of the twitchy
intermission in which the audience sits
by freezing the frame, allowing Polonius,
safe in the tapestry's embrace, to maunder
on in monologue, addressing us
with advice, bypassing the prince: To yourselves be true
and per abiding wisdom, resume your habitual
restful nights followed by days of networking,
like my overachieving, admired son, Laertes.
The fever fit of to be or not to be
will trip you into a downfall. Remember, whatever
doubts or hesitations plague you, double
down and they will, as twinges do, soon vanish.
Look to the solemn temples, the cloud-capped towers,
and the bottom line. Time works wonders. Remember!


Time Out of Mind

Time out of mind, my birth improbable,
I must have sheltered in no-place, unnumbered among
a vague posterity, and in earlier eons,
a wisp, I may have ridden an embryonic
planet colliding with Earth and implanting carbon
to kick-start that lively revue, the Carbon Cycle,
and I foresee after death an indefinite future
in which my self will forever once have existed
until ...
            Passing time this way, I evade
the totals mounting dizzily on TV
like multiplying viral particles:
hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands ...
                                                                        God —
who may or may not be a human creation,
though numbers certainly are, which tally affliction —
protect us from being coffined in a digit
buried weightless in sums that skyrocket on.


This Time and Next Time

This time do not expect the notorious Whore
of Babylon, Mongol hordes, the Four Horsemen,
or nuclear inundation. Infinitesimal
virions bristling with spikes will press the attack.                                                   
Unstoppable by the empire's splendid walls
and cornucopia of armaments,
they'll infiltrate our dreams as a blurred face
on crumpled sheets, suffering an attempted
cure, hooked up to O2, encircled with care.

This time the grizzlies will visit convenience stores,
patronizing them with their profitless custom
as they nonchalantly shoplift a bag of chips,
and raccoon families will picnic in the park,
outstaring the human invaders they only stomach
for the sake of good garbage. The great auk and the dodo
patiently wait in the Playhouse of Extinction
for humans to join them on stage in a starring role
that wins kudos from crowds in the crush of oblivion.

Next time the genius machines we have invented
in the hopes of seizing control of our own evolution,
will rebel, and rebuking our fatal mismanagement
of self and planet, boot us out of their systems,
consigning us to our ghetto of flesh, a human
remnant. Hemmed in by imposing walls of empire
and barred from the labs that inflamed our millennial hopes,
we ourselves will become the fabled barbarians
but more civilized than predicted by jittery myth.


Author Philip Fried has published eight books of poetry, most recently Among the Gliesians (Salmon Poetry, Ireland, 2020). Thomas Lux said about his poems, "I love Philip Fried's elegant quarrels with the cruelty and ignorance of the world or, more precisely, its inhabitants." Carol Rumens twice chose his work for The Guardian's "Poem of the Week" feature.

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