Frederick Pollack


View of the Water

Beyond the retaining wall,
the sea is unusually clear:
outlines of buildings, stubs of docks,
the unrecoverable streets
all visible from here,
colloidal bubbles rising here and there.
It looks like the clients
have decided to take three apartments
on the fiftieth floor, remove walls.  The agent
stands with them on a balcony. 
The air is fresh, the mood
relaxed in the way that comes
when drawbacks and their costs have been agreed
and postures put aside,
and parties are briefly one
in their reluctance to proceed
with the day.  The agent sinks
into his native observant heaviness.
He could have asked for more.
They aren’t suffering.
The wife seems marginally
more alert.  Both are on something,
and in that fancy sungear
can hardly be told apart.
Not merely rich but connected, they travel,
know other cities.  He wonders whether
they see him as part of local color
and how they’d react to what he lives in. 
The husband checks the time in his brain.
The realtor straightens, looks down
at puddles beneath
the wall and scuttling
people the size of rats the size of men.



Breath of Air

Someone was there in the night.
Gone now.  So as not
to distract him, perhaps,
or tempt or shame him into relationship. 
Am I ashamed? he wonders.
Is solitude still voluptuous?
He could make inquiries; roam
the corridors in search of her,
if that’s the price …
Has the time come for gentle melancholy?
Instead he showers.  Breakfast
awaits when he emerges,
as always.  In response
to subtle measurements of need
and mood, it consists
today of perfect eggs and sausages
beside the usual perfect bread.
He might like a newspaper –
there is probably news somewhere –
but finds, again, he’s glad
to trace the variations of morning
from the river to the snow
on the peaks above it, glaciers and hawks
above those, the sea beyond and around
the mountains.
The window, as vast as the view, copies its curve,
and every day he reads the view like news.
Then he turns to the book, in thin leather,
that shares his table.  Its characters suffer
as much as his imagination
permits, and will triumph, finally,
beyond his boldest hunch.
So he hopes.  Each day he works,
and words arrange
themselves in stately print on the fine paper.
Though actually things haven’t been going well,
even before the distraction of
last night.  Blankness reclaims.
He needs some notes.
They’re in his room back in town.
And a talisman, in a drawer of a dusty bureau.
So he dresses and leaves.  The corridors
jog so as to avoid
oppressive endlessness.  Are as inviting
as the suites, with nooks and landings looking
out on a variety of grandeurs. 
Far ahead someone waves, disappears.
The writer wonders if politeness requires
he seek out his host.  Of course not; 
he can stay, leave and return
forever.  The will of guests is absolute.
Beyond the majestic door,
the wind can’t decide
between the early bite of spring and fall.
It is as pleasant as reviews
that say you have crystallized your times, or time.
He rests on a bench on a wooded ridge.
Before him the land slopes away.
Hills compensate for mountains; lakes,
receding to the horizon, for the sea
behind him.  In however many days,
his ocher town,
static, sullen, cowed by space, escapable,
will rise on its dry plain.
But now the breeze changes, contains
a doubt.  What if words
are really, loathsomely, equal,
fit to be thrown
by anyone, changed anyhow –
as if by a magician, barely attempting
to conceal the fraud – on some sort of screen?
What if there is no hierarchy, no patron?
Almost he doesn’t dare to look back,
for fear he will have nowhere to return.
Almost the immensities he assumes
on every side collapse to leave
some filthy street …
Then he shrugs and rises, swings his arms
as he descends into the day.
The moment becomes merely an experience.
For in that universe I, the host,
keep ambiguity and irony
in my vaults; what reaches for them,
and that from which it extends, are happiness.


No Sign of the Cavalry

And if they did come, what price rescue?
For the girls, charm to the brim
of the Stetson, “ma’am” this “ma’am” that, and,
in the first dark arroyo, knifepoint.
The contempt of the absolute gambler
who raises in every round, never wins,
but if he does is the Weltgeist.
Who sees in the sublime vanishing
forests only timber.

The Injuns who surround our Volkswagen
bus view things holistically.
Walk light on the land.  Have hyperdeveloped
senses.  Know the name
of every totemic deer, rabbit,
and raindrop.  Own all things in common,
recycle the dead, never traumatize
children, and would be entirely admirable
except that they want to scalp us.


All You Can Eat

We swarm upstairs.  Deviled eggs, mini-quiches on trays.
Don’t stuff yourselves
is not what a leader says,
and I half-believe I can be leader here
after life on the fringe.
So I change it at the last moment to Those are appetizers –
there has to be more.  Let’s check it out
Dork.  But there is: a smorgasbord filling
a ballroom.  Lobster, pad thai. 
Then a loungeful of mousse.
The guys are intimidated, almost sift back
to the basement, with its cheeseburgers, balloons 
and Grand Theft Auto.  But soon, food is flying;
someone discovers
he can shatter the Louis Quinze chairs with one leap.
Not wanting to be leader any more,
I find a dark corner, eat and regret.
A caryatid from the fireplace comes to life,
stands straight in her transparent shift with a fist on her hip
and glares in disgust.  I stop chewing.
Is it puberty yet? 


Clinic at Night

Laptops are closed or home.
On older monitors, screen-savers
mutate from multicolored box to sphere
to spiky ball, trampolining
the borders of their world.
Red LEDs, and the numbers
of the security pad, glow comfortably.
Clean paths have been traced in the clean carpet;
the desks are places one would like to be.
Where files are material, where they contain,
say, pictures too heavily crayoned,
they have been locked away.  The pictures
in the waiting-room, above the toys
and big and little chairs, sleep
as well as only smiling
stick-people can, the box-house, the archetype.

Doors have been left half-open
for the same reason pictures
are tilted, in homes, by maids.  The windows
and one-way mirrors shine
in meager light.  Only the doll’s-house
in one of the offices seems
disorderly, behind its missing wall:
figures lying or standing where they shouldn’t,
small furnishings strewn or broken.
Does no one neaten the dolls?


Copyright 2012 Frederick Pollack


Frederick Pollack is the author of two book-length narrative poems, The Adventure and Happiness, both published by Story Line Press.  Other of his poems and essays have appeared in Hudson Review, Southern Review, Fulcrum, Salmagundi, Poetry Salzburg Review, Die Gazette (Munich), Representations and elsewhere.  Poems have most recently appeared in the print journals Magma (UK), The Hat, Bateau, and Chiron Review.  Online, poems have appeared in Big Bridge, Snorkel, Hamilton Stone Review, Diagram, BlazeVox, The New Hampshire  Review, Denver Syntax, Barnwood, elimae, Wheelhouse, Mudlark, Shadow Train and elsewhere.  Pollack is an adjunct professor of creative writing at George Washington University, Washington, DC.