Poems by Frederick Pollack

The Book Fair

mp3 Audio File IconHear Frederick Pollack read “The Book Fair” here.

Repairs to the Plaza — last year’s burst pipe —
have threatened this years Book Fair.
Over lunch the Mayor approaches his frenemy
the Archbishop. Surely the Cathedral
Square might (at last) be used; and
when better than the anniversary
of the last auto-da-fé to be held there?
The cleric drily enumerates books
deserving the lamented Index
he has seen in the colorful stalls, and how
distressed some covers have often made him.
The Council resolves not to cancel.
The Main Police Station and the Hospital, 
inspired on both civic and secular grounds,
each offer half their parking lots! But on
the day, two unheralded gang wars begin
in the slums. Across the city 
these ripple and radiate pettier crimes;
the bursting police half-lot is further
tasked with bleeding, cursing, struggling 
thugs. Blood, needless to say, also
mars the approaches to the Hospital; 
sirens, and the threats and lamentations
of associates and loved ones drown
introductory speeches, the remarks of literary
lights, and the prizewinning poem.
Tourists debarking from boats and trains,
when they can raise their eyes from texting, take
embarrassing pictures instantly viewed
worldwide. Holidaying mafiosi
assess possibilities in (though also perhaps 
disdaining) the uproar; their eyes pass over
the scattered or teetering, silently grieving
books. The scene, like any, 
demands a unifying eye. Which must, in my ancient
but freshly-pressed, now somewhat stained,
ceremonial robe, be mine. I take copious
mental notes, to be used when peace returns
in a lecture:
Can allegory subsist in a world of fact?

The Desks

mp3 Audio File IconHear Frederick Pollack read “The Desks” here.

Some waving guns that, in the event, 
they can’t fire, even at themselves,
some still attended
by impotent weeping lawyers
with nowhere else to go, the capitalists
exit their buildings. The soviet
of construction workers works
heroically to refit windowed
offices for families; 
purged of cubicles, the bullpens
become kindergartens, playgrounds, 
and mostly Montessori schools. But however
vast the need for housing, the square
footage of towers is vaster,
and stranger comrades fill the upper floors.
Here and there, the forlorn cables
of gone terminals. Light through big windows turns
the person at the retrieved or remaining 
desk into a silhouette. 
A former Buddhist nun
adjusts; whoever comes
is told that life is suffering: in some lives
and eras gross and urgent, in others, hopefully,
subtler; they discuss
particular griefs. Two walls away, a quasi-
colleague explains
what he understands of the motives
and personality of Christ. He and the client
pray silently together; the Council
allows it. But it isn’t
only people like that
who volunteer and often live up here.
Poetry seems to be becoming
oral yet intimate,
delivered and discussed across a desk.
Many poems concern the experience
of high-speed elevators: the different
smells that enter at different floors,
the strange new sense 
of home. The confessional mode
meanwhile has migrated
to other citizens who set up shop
near the top. They tell their stories,
if only to the ghosts of power 
past or to come. “I was a bad kid.
I tortured animals — I killed them.
When I grew up I hurt people.
An operation changed me.”

The Darling Buds

mp3 Audio File IconHear Frederick Pollack read “The Darling Buds” here.

Someone has scattered plastic globes
around the Hellenistic/early Roman world,
including Ashoka’s empire
and the Han (who have just established
the bureaucracy, buried
the terra-cotta army, and invented
the umbrella). The globes display
not borders but plains, deserts, mountains,
and of course the sea. Scholars who see them,
mostly aristocrats, 
leave business to their slaves, but generals
who get their hands on them ponder. 
A merchant in Thebes becomes obsessed
with what they’re made of. A Hopewell shaman
recognizes the Great Lakes.

Sometime later, whoever it is —
I like to think an energetic woman —
appears in person, unintroduced
but with impressive credentials, 
before Plato, Mary Wollstonecraft,
Akhenaten, Hitler’s mother 
and others. Provides automatic weapons
(just a few, but they help) to Spartacus. 
It may be she (it’s never solved)
who sabotages the escalator 
that tumbles Trump head-first onto his marble
lobby. (Melania, when her leg heals, moves
to Miami.) Sometimes she sticks around —
as when she meets with Lenin in ’05 — 
to see if things get better. But whether

they do or not, whoever it is
gets depressed and returns
to what someone at Princeton has won
the Fields Medal for proving
can’t be changed.

Through a Glass

mp3 Audio File IconHear Frederick Pollack read “Through a Glass” here.

I tell them I don’t see bodies, only what
they call emotions. But emotions too
are just a surface, like a mucus membrane;
what’s beneath them, like muscles, are what I
call motives, which are what I see.
Hinged like organs on a skeleton.
I’m stared at — not “doubtfully,” that’s
just language; the “membranes” flash fear/
contempt for the madman. Beneath that,
a weariness or more or less
grim clinging to being professional; and
ambition, i.e., shelter in career.
They ask if I read minds. Actually, I used 
to ask myself that. “No, it’s larger, more shapeless —
there are often no thoughts at all.”
Then I realize that sounds hostile,
and see (though not specifically — not
the restraints and MRIs) what they intend
to do with me. And weep, projecting harmlessness,
which brings that session to an end. 

They put me in a room I like,
more wood than metal. In a very faint, 
dim but prolonged way both generate
thought-clouds — they want something.
The wood wants to go back to being
forest — Jurassic forest, not yet wood.
Metal is traumatized, jumpy; doesn’t know
what it wants, or like what it is. Only plastic 
quietly endures. “What about
this sandwich?” asks the girl who brings me meals,
being filmed at every step. “Food doesn’t
‘say’ anything,” I assure her. “It just
echoes whoever prepares and serves and eats it.
You’re treating me well,” I add.
“Well, we were frightened,” she says, “after
what happened to Dr. F__. What you said
about his inner life was rather...” Softly:
“Of course, one suspected.“ Hearing which,
I knew at last what had happened
to Dr. F__, and grieved.

“I suppose they plan to turn me into
some sort of weapon. Maybe the aide
to a diplomat, reading the room.” “Oh, I
hope not,” she says — as perhaps she was told to.
“You’re the opposite of a weapon.”
I ask what she means. She’s silent, but I know:
her attraction to me radiates,
despite, across professional evasions,
with other facets of her radiant soul.
“The opposite of a weapon is a weapon,”
I remark, and listen to the cameras 
and vents, and focus for a moment
on what I see of her — not eyes
and hair and hands and shape, not eyes
revealing and complicating code, but parents
in fleeing synoptic profile, compassion
like an ineradicable illness, nameless
struggle, fragments of the good;
and for the millionth time I wish
I could replace this sight with touch.

I Used to Tell My Students

mp3 Audio File IconHear Frederick Pollack read “I Used To Tell My Students” here.

The trick is not to write a line
before you know the last. 
Which you then repeat, over and over
to yourself, with glee, as your reader will,
in shock. A poem resembles
a flower. It lets in admiration, and
analysis from those capable; provides
sweet smells and enticing colors as
it shuts.

Frederick Pollack is the author of two book-length narrative poems, The Adventure and Happiness, both from Story Line Press; the former reissued 2022 by Red Hen Press. Three collections of shorter poems, A Poverty of Words (Prolific Press, 2015), Landscape with Mutant (Smokestack Books, UK, 2018), and The Beautiful Losses (Better Than Starbucks Books, forthcoming September 2023). Pollack’s work has appeared in Salmagundi, Poetry Salzburg Review, The Fish Anthology (Ireland), Magma (UK), Bateau, Fulcrum, Chiron Review, Chicago Quarterly Review, etc. Online, poems have appeared in Big Bridge, Hamilton Stone Review, BlazeVox, The New Hampshire Review, Rat’s Ass Review, Faircloth Review, and Triggerfish, etc. His website: www.frederickpollack.com.

Other Pollack Mudlarks: Poster No. 72 (2007), Poster No. 139 (2016), Flash No. 142 (2020), and Poster No. 189 (2022).

Copyright © Mudlark 2023
Mudlark Posters | Home Page