Tag Archives: Frederick Pollack

Shuffle

by Frederick Pollack


1

The mother rises from the wheelchair.
Her constant aggrieved drone
skids into silence. She extends her hands,
in which hard sour fruits
that long since bloomed in wrist
and knuckle are dissolving, spots
fading. Fingers straighten, search.
Hair darkens, thickens. Muscle reknits
to bone, outline returns
to sight. The sweater, compression hose
and thick black shoes make
her look like wasted talent
in a bad play. But the single jewel,
a brooch, now seems a promise, not a relic.
The smooth cheeks flush with something more
than shock: she hears
intolerable, tolerated years
of herself. And seeks – her whole new mind
a focused flame of apology –
the daughter, who has meanwhile disappeared.

Who runs, herself shedding
wrinkles and pounds as in the most
wholehearted lying commercial, past
other metamorphoses,
and potted palms, through sliding doors.
In her car, she smokes without coughing.
In her mirror, the slimming pantsuit sags,
the careful hairstyle now a halo
of dowdiness. Mother approaches
with love and guilt, and will find her.
Why all this? wonders the daughter.
She seeks me as my whole life sought her.
Death was near; I can admit,
with this new clarity, I was anticipating
years of regretful peace before my own.
It’s too weird… Two girls
which I suppose we were anyway.
Does eternal youth imply forgiveness?

2

She starts the ignition, frantic for home
and, suddenly, love. The city
has already turned from wonder to order.
Some outside force like the National Guard
is at work. There are many dead
who must, with whatever qualms, be visited;
and lines move forward, color-coded,
mostly good-natured. Though
one had always believed, somehow,
one’s Lost One would come home,
walk up the steps and knock, it’s understood
that the world would be too crowded. So
they pack some things, turn off the gas,
and walk or take buses
to cities just like this
except for the eagerly awaiting dead.

Most poignant, those – all beautifully young –
under pink or blue banners know
it won’t be people, or even angels,
who hand their children back to them:
that would be too awkward, jealous-making.
Big golden robots, endlessly patient,
deep-voiced, warm and soft to the touch …
something like that. While others,
who wistfully fly a white flag,
pursue someone who left or was never found
to other bars,
and leave the empty earth to loners and lovers.

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The Birth of Tragedy

by Frederick Pollack


Originally a chorus chanted
accusations of vanity, threats
of divine arbitrariness or justice,
to a crowd vain as peacocks,
rational in a hectic
improvised way, and superstitious as thieves.
Then a member of the chorus
stepped forth. Hadn’t known,
a moment before, that he would.
Moaned the same sort of thing
he had sung – he had
been boastful, neglectful
of sacrifices, even
(within the uncertain
parameters of the concept) cruel. But he spoke –
entranced, pressured,
sweating under the mask – of himself, his own faults.
But was he speaking of himself?
Or of all of them, chorus and crowd, as if they were he?
Uncertain, his former colleagues
kept up a nervous humming.
The audience, also unsure
if the madman’s “I” meant “I”
or “we” or “you,” and where he got off
doing that – the audience,
about to storm the stage
and tear him apart (but wouldn’t that
itself involve a possibly wrong
initiative?), didn’t.
The thing became
part of the ritual. Eventually the chorus
was fired. Yet the actor
is still out there, historically despised,
suspect, safe only in slapstick,
a stand-in for ourselves
like ourselves. And the gods,
in a merged, corporate form,
like a typical insurance company
that takes and takes and never gives, still preside.

I’ve said it all before, through clenched teeth.

Last Things

by Frederick Pollack


You probably wonder what we talk about
at the end. Actually you don’t,
any more than we wonder about
what you talk about. Old Series, old
averages. Who had whose kid,
who bought which house and when and what
they got out of it. When Jesus will come,
with death-rays shooting from his fingertips.
Were you good. – And you think
(though actually you don’t) we sit around
determining, with querulous quavering
pickiness, positions and times:
when Sirhan entered the kitchen and where he stood,
when rainforests or deregulation reached
the tipping point, where everything was lost.
We don’t. Actually we talk,
at the end, almost exclusively
about sex. On which we have
a certain detached perspective (we call it
“emotion recollected in tranquility”)
that makes it look like math.
Or the ideal case,
the Rational Man in the Marketplace,
the economists who rule you (of course
they don’t – you’re free; they only serve
the men who don’t rule you) discuss.
We imagine sex between gods.
Perfectly beautiful, perfectly willing
and able, perfectly
absorbed, forever.
If you heard us you’d think it a prayer
and say so, wonderingly. (Not.)

Envoy

by Frederick Pollack


The least expected revolution
has happened, and I have been sent,
tactful and skilled, to sound out
its leaders. No band plays,
no generals greet me. I gaze
with studied blandness at heads,
and worse, on spikes; at women
spitting or worse on blinded
oppressors crawling and pleading;

columns of eunuchs, former
rapists and husbands of children,
in chains – they might cause trouble
if they escaped and had hands;
less criminal figures confined
to burqas in this heat, some fainting;
and men who are accommodating
the regime, all in western dress:
presumably the uniform of sweetness.

Here and there a handsome youth,
at ease amidst rubble, hurries
to a meeting. Why should he
not thrive? he wonders. So do
his mistresses, who slowly teach him
to cook, clean, help with babies
and illness, talk or stop talking, and
within what strict parameters
vanity shall henceforth be charming.

The eyes and lips and cleavage of the leaders,
free at last, are overwhelming. Some
affect traditional harshness, or enjoy
shouting without crying; most flirt.
Which could distract a diplomat,
even the most professional, who wasn’t
female, or gay, or as removed
from love as a small cold moon
orbiting the storms of a gas giant.

Vacances

by Frederick Pollack


It is the triumph of the mostly gone
Thais – one must smile all the time –
and Danes – “clean” lines, bright textiles
(always suited to tropics).
With a stylized East in their lovemaking,
which they assume is broadcast – a performance,
like the smallest details of their jobs,
for whoever is interested. They’re bureaucrats
(she’s with Air, he Water),
capable (hence this week off),
and young, like everyone.
It is, necessarily, the triumph
of scent – barely thinned
by their one minute salt, two minutes fresh
shower. They resemble each other:
moderately forthright, moderately
sensitive; exquisite. They resent,
if anything, only the dead,
who accumulate like scurf
in the corners of rooms; whom one resents
as one did, formerly, a father. Dry,
they walk out on the balcony
(it is not a sunset coast) and gaze
across the waves at a subsiding tower.

Chickflick

by Frederick Pollack


They asked me to take care of it
because, when there were problems, I always
had. I understood it
better than anyone, they said.
Inevitably, ruefully,
I smiled with a total,
almost archaeological love,
cross-sectioning yet integrating
successive appearances of each of them
in time. Live- and ghost-Grandpa.
Bill with his comfortable belly and reassuring
workshirt. Nell with her vast postwar
casseroles. Jane with her skill
at clandestine affairs and overt guilt.
The son who caused problems but not,
you know, problems. The cousin who paid
his debt to society and even his daughter,
who married out of the faith.
Those who left and came home,
and all their absorbing inspiring deaths
inducting them into the sepia
hand-tinted gallery on walls and piano.
So filled I could not speak,
I turned and tried to coax it
onto the veranda,
that we might walk to the beloved lake
lost since the first days of so many loves
and thence and thereby home. But it turned
on me, claws out, and snarled
it would never go in, or back,
or away, or wherever it
was wanted; and I thought,
perhaps I hadn’t understood it.

You Know You Want It

by Frederick Pollack


An airship picked me up a block from home.
I had stepped out in search of joy.
I’d say I was abducted, but I wasn’t:
two blondes in bikinis
leered down and invited me
to climb the rope ladder.
(I knew their flattery was insincere,
but any straight guy would have climbed.)
On the deck of the gondola, a gorilla,
no scarier than need be,
hooked me up to a treadmill;
the exercise, he growled, would do me good.
Other intellectuals
trudged beside me, likewise
endlessly checking their heart-rate and calorie output;
our efforts turned the propeller.
I knew they were intellectuals
because of the remarks that were
our rations: “They don’t whip us.
How insulting.” “The system makes us drive
ourselves.” “What do you mean by ‘us’?”
“The symbolism is outrageous!”
Meanwhile we watched
passengers and crew
doff skimpy clothing, screw,
feed grapes to each other, drink,
fight, snort, shoot up, collapse,
and vomit over the rail –
no doubt upon the uncomplaining poor
in the shadow of the gasbag.
We were off limits, for good or ill,
which made us feel secure and lonely.
(“But are they enjoying it?” “Are we?”
“’One must imagine Sisyphus happy.’”) –
When I was used up, I was let go,
having lost little weight;
we had covered perhaps a block.
The same girls waved ironically,
or perhaps their hands were dangling languidly.
The day lost, I went home
to find within myself
some principle of joy,
that omnipresent, rigged, compulsory lottery.