While danger is real, heaven means
its end. When it ends,
you try to hold on to
that happiness. There’s water in the pipes;
now you can soak a rag,
strip, and wash, not only dare at night
to drink. One light was always on,
invisible from outside,
in the passage; the result, like
the water, of the forgetful largesse
of ownership somewhere in panic retreat.
Now perhaps you can teach yourself to wire;
extend light and power.
Sweep (there’s a broom) at last the broken glass,
drawing nearer and nearer the windows;
tape (there’s tape) the broken panes, and
look out. How beautiful the silence!
How beautiful even the rubble.
Imagine beauty intensifying
with the collapse of (other) buildings, the arrival
of weeds, sunflowers, animals. Leave
the windows (though they’re safe now)
before you imagine people …
Need new glass.
All that tape reduced the light.
Imagine learning to paint.
Which would require talent
and paint. And privacy, which you have, except
for (somewhere in the building?)
the sound of someone laughing.
Winter best for sleep. For the privileged
the domesticated cloud
of a comforter, maybe an electric blanket
beneath it. No unfamiliar pains,
sirens, knocks; confidence
that death will come before somebody brings it.
Religious types, at or after
lights-out, do gratitude;
I look for triumph, if only that
of surviving or getting away with something.
In the dark I seek more triumph and
can’t find it except
in the point of view of an ultra-fast
and so far undiscovered particle. Fleeing
the heat-death, through long
dark ages, traversing my blanket, picking up
energy from hecatombs, the initial
meteor strikes, sunbirth;
Bend Over Backwards
You know at least this much:
the essential room
isn’t paneled, grand, telegenic,
but small and stinks.
There are only two sides
and you’re on the wrong one. Here
the metal hits the petal,
the rubber, you,
and consciousness is an error of which
you must be disabused.
On your last completed form,
not having said which firm
you would buy air from
was seen as disaffection.
Under the new criteria,
you are no longer poor,
disabled, a person.
This is all carefully explained;
then they hand you another form,
which could become the basis of an appeal.
Check all that apply: I am morally weak.
I want to “give back.”
I love/have served my country/God.
I see things as illogical and cruel.
The joke you had to explain.
The vision that moved no one.
The pedantic tone.
The embarrassing confession
abandoned halfway. When across freshened skies
jetpacks jockey and curtsey,
and solar-powered dirigibles
preside like funny gods, you’re not invited.
It’s possible in your room
with effort to detach yourself
progressively from time
until you see it whole
for the troll it is; and at
the apogee of spirit
forgive the stucco and silence
of that room, and sleep. There’s a party.
Composites talk wittily and
with power you half-hear
though contributing fully.
Hors-d’oeuvres, urgent gossip, vivid
flickering children; you’re involved.
And the ghost whose eager sheets
and candlelight you find
at midnight seems almost
The Public Garden
Why not be honest? I wanted to imitate –
so intensely it would have seemed mine –
an early Auden tone:
It was winter when I walked in the public garden.
Which guaranteed that anything I felt
or wrote and any metaphor I found
to lay a mask upon another mask
would have been crap … Any
remembered poem is a screen memory,
if you recall Freudian terms.
Remembering this, I again quietly
hated that horde of mainstream colleagues
stuck in the family romance,
well-fed wanting pity,
etc. There are even editors now
who warn submitters to note potential
trigger points in their work … The point
should be to squeeze trigger points! The least
a poem can do is demolish weaklings.
But I wanted to walk … or from my chair
imagine a persona walking.
Who would be young, not hurting,
wear black and, frighteningly armed
with everything that several well-endowed
humanities departments offer, hear
from the austere boughs
of the park, the brutalist
order of the surrounding downtown,
a call. He will bring to bear
all he knows. He will make inaccessible
allusions dance, while erasing that frumpish metaphor,
dance. He’ll write insensitive poetry.
The homeless, bunched
in tents and on benches, become
a Rothkoesque dark rectangle.
He even dismisses a vision
of me, inert in my slum at the end of time.
Then rain or sun break out; he summoned either.
I often half-construct a comrade
from that imaginary continent,
culture. Where language and other
borders can sometimes be a stimulus.
Not young, he’s too young to have suffered
the classic modern horrors. But their admiring
scions did their best, and religions
and villages did theirs, and
my friend has scars besides intelligence.
Now, gazing from a canal
to memory and back, or at his desk,
he mumbles. I don’t know what he’s writing.
I do know he can think
of refugees in camps, of the dying, of prisoners
anywhere with simple brotherhood.
And that he wouldn’t like my work,
whose sense of lifelong exile is just
a metaphor, and which would be
as untranslatable as his for me.
What You Mean We
There was once a tribe, the Inaddekwutt.
They fished a stream, long dry,
in what has since become Connecticut.
They formed no bonds with the other tribes
who lived there; they couldn’t connect.
It was because they were inadequate.
Placid in a violent world, intermittently
well-meaning, their humor
intellectual and forced. Eventually
they were kicked out. They wandered
towards the sunset, through vast landlocked regions
where rising tides lift no boats.
The tribe disintegrated. For centuries
one would stand, here or there, by the wall
of an arroyo, indistinguishable from the arroyo,
a kind of golem waiting for his rabbi.
At length Europeans came
with their suspect moisture. Mobility ensued,
and interbreeding. Maybe even you …
An old-fashioned train, with compartments.
A great deal of clacking, rocking, hooting
but no discernable forward motion.
My ticket was illegible.
In one compartment, full of wigs, ruffs, bustles,
I was accused of impertinence.
In another big men, with or without
cigars, made deals; they saw no worth in me.
With tenured conferees and with a rock band
who had variously trashed
their seats, my sophistication
clashed with their knowledge or vice versa.
Some places I didn’t try.
In some I was very badly handled.
In the narrow corridor, a neatly-dressed black man
also looked lost, but turned out to be
a Black Muslim, who promptly identified me
as a Jew, thereby guilty of financing
the renegade mage who had invented whites.
Fred Pollack is the author of two book-length narrative poems, THE ADVENTURE and HAPPINESS (Story Line Press; the former to be reissued by Red Hen Press), and two collections, A POVERTY OF WORDS (Prolific Press, 2015) and LANDSCAPE WITH MUTANT (Smokestack Books, UK, 2018). Many other poems are in print and online journals.