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Frederick Pollack





Perhaps, in the end, something similar

will happen here ...

The fathers, disarmed, lose weight

on the poor rations of the first year.

Find socially wholesome work

they hate or throw themselves into

fanatically. Feel surrounded

by less-than-humans, freaks,

and animals they can no longer hunt,

though actually no one comes near them. Meet

in secret, reminisce about rallies,

sing old songs, plot and are 

again defeated; breed.


The second generation, changed,

accuses. But this is America

and there’s a crazy religiosity,

still, about them …

Minorities, not so minority now,

rebuilding the cities laugh

at the son of a magapreacher,

who is always hanging around, wanting

to help. “I’m responsible

for him / it / everything!” he weeps.

His significant other cries “You’re not!”

but eventually finds him wanting –

the way a German girl I knew

in the ‘70s said that German girls

despised “Softis.”


Not loud, quiet, and not the quietness

of passive-aggression; what’s intolerable

is the engrained assumption

of privilege: that what he says is

important, that he is.

That anyone should care

how in his dreams he too is pursued

by cops, or the private guards

of some plutocrat, or 

gangsters identical to police 

(some smaller countries lead

the world in this respect). How he’s accused

of offenses that aren’t,

or wouldn’t be if they weren’t his,

and beaten till he wakes; how he lives

in wasted time. And through

their shouting they attempt to make

the distinction between his dreams and

their lives. But in his eyes

and sunken posture they perceive

(with contempt and a sort of relief as well as

compassion) that he’s simply mad,

and lift him gently, call someplace 

for help. Thus solidarity is achieved.

The Toys

Somewhere in modernity, a New Woman

exits a stagedoor. The bloodstreaked ghostpale

makeup for her role

as ingenue in Goddess in the Underground

has yielded to freshness; next season,

if various plots mature, she will be Goddess.

The stalls’ and critics’ ecstasies

linger. Her silent assistant bears away

several nose-cones

of roses. She will find them vased

at home – save one,

stolen to grace 

the assistant’s tiny immigrant apartment 

and watered by nameless emotions. 

A streetlamp limns the actress’s better profile.

Droshkies and broughams jingle to the curb,

are displaced (horses clopping

droop-headed off) by a jeep,

MG, and Rolls. A studied gesture 

brings glove to dimple, choosing.


Across the street, an aging youth

wearing the Pierrot costume the system

demands of rebels, glares at the suitor cars

with a jealousy that at least is real.

He should be off being a genius

or blogging but in a way

he is at his post. Now fascists pass,

breaking heads and windows, obstructing his view.

(The driver of the jeep calls

HQ, but the time to shoot them

has passed.) The youth is tempted 

to join them – let anger out, it’s easier

to despise women – but a miraculous,

unmotivated niceness

prevents. He goes off

to mitigate Third World conditions

several blocks away. At times the very white

whites of the eyes in dark

faces in lightless rooms remind him

how he looked at her.


Soon she’s the Goddess,

awaiting her car and chauffeur,

head full of film contracts and leading men,

when along the boulevard, narrowly avoiding

bouquets of surveillance cameras, swoops

a new two-person jetpack. It’s

a youth she has seen at the edge of the world,

well-dressed enough beneath the helmet.

He invites her for a spin.

I can give you my autograph here, she says,

and Pierrot, imploding, cries

that what he wants is her love – that since he saw her

as the Rebel Girl last year he can see nothing else;

neither ethics nor action nor madness nor pride

helps. How did you get the jetpack?

she asks. He shrugs, sighs. 

She lets him down efficiently but gently.

He squares his shoulders, tells himself and her

it must be Art

she has decided to live for. No.

For the Centenary of H. S. Mauberley

In the South Seas, he picks up a bug.

Thereafter, though never entirely well,

he can’t die. Other symptoms: time 

is screwed up (the wars merge). He finds

he can no longer express himself 

in sharp-hewn stanzas packed with Greek,

Middle French, other lore

that no one understands any more,

or pretends to, or is even willing to wait

for footnotes. Years in sanitaria, full 

(to spite him!) of incurable ghost Jews, 

who show him their poetry. He 

discharges himself, is on hand

for the épuration (Brasillach with

his last breath mourns “great red fascism,”

which strikes M as prescient). Gets

in touch with Pound, and is one of the flacks 

sitting round in ’67 when 

the Master sort of blames himself 

and Ginsberg sort of forgives him. But M, 

not stupid, sees that for the masses 

the only analogue for him and his style

is Zelig. Mr. Nixon, of the famed 

“steam yacht” (destroyed in the Blitz), has died

and left him advice: “Go into advertising.” 

M does. His commercials allude

to every jewel and layer of Pop; he’s

hot. But sometimes culture warriors

unearth his background and he has to change

his name or firm. Alas, he moans

one night in his flat, Art goes

through cycles, the ironic, the sentimental;

you have to cut your soul to the pattern.

A chronic drop from the kitchen faucet

lands in an unwashed pot. As it fills,

the sound becomes deeper and somehow doubled.

One could write that, he thinks, but it would be

only another sort of vanity.


No Problem

The nation of humanities-

type intellectuals institutes

a space program. There’s dissent –

the money would be better spent

on their numerous orphans, preserving

illuminated manuscripts – but, well,

the stars, you know … We’ll reduce

the first three astronauts chosen, the Commander,

Mission Specialist, and Aphorist

to numbers (1 through 3), which is how

they often feel. They are not the gung-ho

well-adjusted military athletes

of richer countries. Training almost kills them.

Liftoff is worse. Reality has the weight

of seven gravities, thinks 3. True learning-experiences

are deadly. 1 gets in touch

with Ground Control so often that he sounds

needy. 2 hisses a song

of imagined loves beside abandoned highways.

The man in the moon quickly fades but remains

in the mind. (The Chinese, 2 reminds himself, 

see a rabbit.) The far side

has fewer features on which to project.

“It’s the back of a skull,” says 2.

“The truth is the whole,” quotes 3 tonelessly;

“the desired object, then what lies behind.”
“This is not the place,” barks 1, “to go

all Sophocles. (‘Call no man lucky unless he’s dead.’)”

“But that wasn’t the line,” 2 objects. “It’s

‘Call no man lucky till he has passed

the borders of this life secure from pain.’ The Greeks

were always so wordy.” 3’s finger

hovers beside

an ill-placed switch. Which, if he pulled it,

would void all air from the capsule. 

He doesn’t, however, fearing this

would mean an even greater loneliness.


Frederick Pollack is the author of two book-length narrative poems, The Adventure (Story Line Press, 1986; to be reissued by Red Hen Press) and Happiness (Story Line Press, 1998), and two collections, A Poverty of Words (Prolific Press, 2015) and Landscape with Mutant (Smokestack Books, UK, 2018). In print, Pollack’s work has appeared in Hudson Review, Salmagundi, Poetry Salzburg Review, Manhattan Review, Skidrow Penthouse, Main Street Rag, Miramar, Chicago Quarterly Review, The Fish Anthology (Ireland), Poetry Quarterly Review, Magma (UK), Neon (UK), Orbis (UK), Armarolla, December, and elsewhere. Online, his poems have appeared in Big Bridge, Diagram, BlazeVox, Mudlark, Occupoetry, Faircloth Review, Triggerfish, Big Pond Rumours (Canada), Misfit, OffCourse, Danse Macabre (2013 and 2015), and elsewhere.

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