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Fred Pollack



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;

immolating itself

in Bang-warmth.

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,

a questionnaire,

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 Ladder


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

an individual.

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_edited.jpg

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.

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