Frederick 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 in print and online journals. (In Parentheses 2012 & 2019).
L’homme qui rit
Laughing, I noticed: It’s my father’s laugh –
him dead now forty years,
during which time we came to an understanding.
Can one speak of the motive
or subtext of a laugh,
however unrehearsed? Ours differ: his
seized territory, mine is a brilliant retreat.
Silly to speculate
what my laugh could have been or “really” is.
And his ghost, which has become
quite private and benign,
says Surely you can spare
a little room for your old man.
Gotta Love It
Rogue robots and AI
half-glimpsed in science fiction
don’t view themselves as a life-form.
“Life” is corrupted energy, an infection
their mission is to cleanse
from the holy cold and dark.
From which they don’t regard the mind, their mind,
as distinct. Eventually
war, even philosophy,
will proceed unconsciously.
After the asteroid hit,
the world was cold and dark
and full of rotting dinosaurs.
The first new vegetation to appear
was mold and fungi on them.
Mammals no larger than a rat
ate them and fungi.
When light broke through eventually,
ferns evolved; then,
as things grew steamy, palms;
mammals began to grow
and specialize in what they ate.
It only took 300,000 years.
But mold began it, don’t forget.
To paraphrase a minor poet:
I am the rot. Let me work.
Unable, like any unconscious mind,
to accept death, I imagine
lost friends all living in one place –
a housing block as those were meant to be,
in a stable though admittedly autumnal
climate and social system. Their addictions
are monitored or cured, their children
happy in school and even puberty,
relationships whole or severed on good terms,
early talents pursued with whatever interest.
One floor, as Le Corbusier insisted,
is a commons, with nice couches, making up
for the Square, the Corner. My old friends
meet here and have for decades. When I enter,
as I will someday, I imagine
if not embraces, balloons, at least
a beer; but with great unanimity of spirit
they tell me I must let them out of there
and that they’ll hurt me badly if I don’t.
Moments are countries: they live by trade
(mostly smuggling) and the production
of cultural artefacts that occasion
pilgrimages by foreign scholars,
the romantic, and those merely lost
where they are. Relations among them
are peaceful; an army
sent out by one or another, even
a scientific expedition
would vanish in the intervening waste
at the hands of barbarian tribes of time
that refuse to become space.
Moments have flags; this morning’s
comprised the first breeze
of fall through open windows, relative
collectedness, a lack
of pressing local terror. They’re mostly tricolors
like that, some distant ones more vivid;
a bandit empire
beyond the checkpoints flies anarchic black.
To The Other Cities
The transport ministry is most beloved.
Here we won’t speak
of vast barges, trains that course
through every poem and memoir, only
of buses. The airy terminal,
from which pigeons are barred
humanely, without recourse to cruel nails
on exposed beams. The effluvia
of smoke and oil devotedly purged
each day from walls and ramps. The concourse
lit almost blindingly when skies are grey!
In the past, frenzied officials
had to push the last of crowds
aboard so doors might close.
Now buses are bigger, more frequent and rapid.
Crowds were also noisy,
often quarrelsome; some passengers stank,
spat. Now they smile, all can sit,
there are even empty seats, and although
the smile is general it belongs to each.
Some may recall an ancestor, real or televised,
who smoked, whose petticoats and chickens
took up much room, who chewed noisily.
Without malice, she has been laid to rest;
those chickens died for our comfort.
And proceeding swiftly
between buildings, then views, one
need never confront chatter.
Each, smiling and impeccable, knows
the journey is their own
as is the destination; however many
descend at any stop,
it is not to the same city.
the first car that passes
on the largely empty boulevard
alarms him, but he quickly grasps
cars. Assumes, as one does,
that history is convulsive
and imagines a hecatomb, at some point,
of horses; feels sad, but on the other hand
the visual challenge … Tired as he is
from the fall into time,
he would like a coffee; can smell, with senses
heightened by eternity, that coffee
used to be sold here, but everything is closed;
and leans on a stilled car, intuiting plague.
Which in his day filled streets –
the carts of dead, the busy dying,
the doctors with their beaked masks, priests;
mechanically he crosses himself. But
the prevailing lack of ornament, of style,
seems to fit (he began as a set-designer)
the scene. The hectares
of glass, which assure
that what one sees without won’t differ
too much from within, the metal like armor,
the rather refreshingly honest absence
of statues … A large long vehicle
flies by. It seems controlled
by a man. Poor man, he thinks he can escape.
They were Americans, Wilde realized,
with a handsome view of the Pond
as they called it (his first new word). Well,
he knew Americans; knew they liked
funny stories, not wit, and made one
out of eating their overlarge and doughy
scones: It doesn’t feed me,
you know, it goes directly
to the Other Plane, where we’ve achieved
the socialism I yearned for, as I gather you haven’t?
They hadn’t. But tolerance had been won
for people like him. – Tolerance? People like me?
The next things they said
were even more embarrassed, hence outrageous.
Their tea was dreadful, came in a little capote; and
they had the smell of universities
about them – which is worse (he began to construct
a remark for later) than that of the grave
one could almost miss. He had already gathered
his poetry was forgotten.
They sat in depthless chairs quite apart from each other.
Asked why, they explained the virus, viruses,
current politics; the figure they described,
the disaster itself comedically promising. He
began to move among them, looming
(I can’t, after all, be a carrier!), posing
for selfies. They showed most vitality
construing the little insectile machines.
I assume the term “app” is slang for apparition?
All my life I’ve looked at that print
Chagall gave my father in ’47.
A horse walking, on its hind legs, a tightrope,
holding in its front hooves an umbrella.
Until my thirties I didn’t notice
the tightrope, and thought the umbrella was an axe.
So that despite the horse’s gentle,
bemused expression, looking back and down,
I saw it as threatening,
looming over toylike Paris.
By the time they receive the first pictures,
there are things in their heads
and blood that ensure loyalty
to freedom, i.e., property and its owners.
Vague private ironies survive,
but these are rather like sin
in religion, which is also still around:
you fight them if you want
to succeed. However, a shared silent
moment is permissible;
it shows, after all, team spirit,
bonding, which are also values.
They gaze at the screen. On the screen
some long pale tufts
of vegetation, blown apparently
by wind, bend
almost down to the paler sand.
Beyond lies water; a sea.
“Will it move?” someone asks. No one answers.
An animal, which had been hiding, scuttles
into the frame, examines the probe,
leaves. “Is it intelligent?”
“Too small, probably.” Silence
returns. They watch the weeds bow
and straighten. A wave breaks.
The light is rich and shadowless.
A voice congratulates them, says it’s time for lunch.
Nothing moves in the large cold room.
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