Frederick Pollack – 6 poems



Kliban imagined Our Lady

appearing to a Volkswagen

parked at a one-hour meter

in Denver. One assumes she had her reasons:

a message too urgent

to take venue and audience sufficiently into

account. Any secular intellectual

might sympathize.


There are cases still more extreme.

Universal consciousness

suddenly befalls one

of those attenuated stickmen made

to writhe by hot air at used-car lots.

He understands everything.

He knows where the others are.

The answers are so terrible

he becomes at last one with his dance,

but even more alienated

from his eager open painted eyes

and smile. Preaching also to windshields.



The Stowaway


A voice, insinuating, loathsome,

came over the comms: “In ancient times,

small groups in bad situations –

an open lifeboat, cave-ins –

often hallucinated

another member, always calm and helpful.

In many cases they called him Shepherd.

Later they may have viewed him as an angel,

but I make no claim to that. You can call me Shepherd.”

What was so bad about the voice?

It was educated, in an old, elitist way, and

relaxed. The captain, whose job

and joy it was portentously to state

the obvious, announced, “We have a stowaway”

and called for teamwork; he and the others

thinking what the Head Office

would do to them for this, and covertly

selecting whom to blame. They

conferred. They checked readings, logs,

storage units, food and oxygen

consumption. Were issued sidearms,

and headsets that, once activated,

erased fear, superstition, and

concern about career, leaving only

purpose. They found him

in the lounge, beside a viewport, looking down

at the planet. Vegetation there

was purple, much of it now black

from mining. “Freeze!” yelled someone. He

smiled. Was oddly wispy, antique

clothes without a logo,

dyed by the old red dwarf; hardly there

when they upped the lighting. They tased him:

nothing. Zipties passed through him.

Their focused anger fought its bounds. He

smiled. The AI identified

what he said next as propaganda

issued to soldiers in an ancient war: “You should

regard the enemy as someone

who has killed your father, burned your house, dishonored

your mother. On him you may discharge

the load of misery and frustration

you have carried with you all your life.”





I had arranged a few objects

on the setback bricks

atop the old-fashioned fireplace.

A blue Tunisian plate.

A Baule mask. A small sculpture,

which only when you looked at it

looked shapeless, by a sculptor

who had lived upstairs of my father.

This was after

I had scrubbed with a wire brush

as much grime as I could

from the fireplace, which had burnt

nothing in decades and never would.


Then I realized that something like

a window or a mirror

was there, and that beyond it lay

an almost identical

but clean and working hearth. The plate

was the same, the mask better and not

inherited, the artwork

by some big name and rather dull,

the room a charming nook. Mine was my flat.

I could almost see him.

He could almost see me, and was

amused, not very interested, then gone.

I wondered: were we both evil?





Their names remembered like old phone-numbers,

or vanished, though the face remains,

and the last ambiguous laugh, or request for a loan …

Best to regard them as scientists, explorers,

lost somewhere. One discovered

the effect of forty acid trips

in one semester on a mind

that might have rivaled Goethe’s. One

who loathed computers when they appeared

became their master, hidden in that fortress.

One researched for ten years with Scholastic rigor

unrequited love, then boringly,

hermetically, theorized women. And, finding

profession, promotion, family, one found me

a vestigial organ, subject to infection, best

removed. But the cases

that keep me up, trying to remember names,

cafés, disputes, are less clear …

It’s only certain that the fault was mine.


Explorers, certainly, for all of us

“moved.” I imagine them

in towns I never visited, every turn

of every street available on screens

but where the later, all-revealing face

never appears, while

the googled bio seems a fantasy …

Scientists, too; for they learned

new accents, tastes, ways of accommodating

and dying. In any case

the dullest will bequeath ten thousand facts,

I a few mysteries.





Immune to its charms, ignorant of its names,

I drive into the countryside.

Odors of vegetables and animals.

Hay-fever, chaperone of intellect.

I bear in a cardboard box the relics

of the deceased, suggesting only innocence:

a past, that is, not canceled promise.

The house is as I expect, expecting little,

in need of paint to hide its other needs.

And, knocking, I must remember whether

son, daughter, or whoever is in the box,

for that can influence my reception.

Which will inevitably be bad,

though at first I’m offered a chair and awful coffee

and gaze at pious slogans, framed or carved,

I privately decode, my look approving.

Try to grasp, I urge, that I didn’t know him

or her. I’m not the police. I come

long after the police, who were and would be kinder;

it’s we around this desperately polished

table who are the cold case now.

She meant to be good, quit drugs, help people,

he to be rich, successful, male –

successful in any case, a star, a patriot!

These toys, that scrap of diary, this key

to a long-emptied safe deposit box

reveal if properly interpreted

their good intentions. The city

was cruel, but with a cruelty you wanted …

At which the beating comes. I’m prepared,

faith in non-violence never questioned;

and when, exhausted, he, they stop,

I see in them through my remaining

eye that agonizing choice of troubles,

whether to dispose of me or learn.



Junior Moment


As I awoke I wasn’t sure

what the times demanded, what diction to use.

Slang flashed and vanished

like quanta. Was a word meant

to be placed in a sentence or replace it?

And with what emphasis, what shrug or rictus?

Worse was the question

of persona and tone. Once there had been

a noncommittal caution,

a mask of belonging. Still earlier

in my genetic background lay

a touching earnestness that coincided

oddly with the “hardboiled” mode.

(At such a distance the term confused me:

surely it meant a way of being eaten?)

Later there came a frantic expressiveness

that may have been honesty, shot through

with saving moments of rage. This yielded

to a sullenness, which deepened.

How should I speak, who should I be,

I wondered, when I entered

the cafeteria, went to my locker

for my blazer, my hoodie?

Swung from bed; was surprised to encounter

my cane, my denture.



Frederick Pollack is 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, Bindweed (June 2016) and elsewhere.


Frederick Pollack – 5 poems


The spooks have left the facility
just over the line
in Maryland. Russian weeds
(you can tell by their stealth) and
dust from the Caliphate
are occupying the parking lot.
There was never a sign
to remove, except the generic one
of government. Orange steel prongs
still fiercely guard
the driveway. A picnic table warps.
Driving past, one saw them
there or on benches by the aging brick
at lunchtime: knit sweaters,
skirts. Glasses, pills
no doubt, a stoop;
the young among them
quickly taking on
the ordinary tone. But the true self
pocketed the silenced
pistol, slipped the drive
from the clothes of the sated
sleeping target, was the consummating missile;
while another peered
downhill at the willows
that were and remain out of bounds.



Notations of nearby torture: walls,
a table no more solid
than what he works on, leeks
like bones beneath a skull;
then after Normandy, small plates of cherries.
In ‘46 in Antibes the latter
give way to sea urchins – unprepossessing,
vulgar, self-possessed. They become brown stars.
Attend great vegetable breasts
and feasts of eel and squid
and the owl (hurt, from the second floor
of the castle, his new studio)
that becomes a model. A photo shows
both sets of eyes. But the oval that perches
on armrests and pecks
at frames is watchful. Like Françoise,
who yields at last, moves in. Her features resist.
Satyrs and fauns and centaurs dance for her,
a helix with a tambourine.
He considers what to give the Communists,
what not. A poet-Stalin. Later, a dove.
(One bull that year may be America.)
The sea calls from an excited yellow.
Her face extends like a horse, becomes
an arm, a cantilever brooding
on pyramids, eggs and spheres.
The fauns with their hyphen eyes play double flutes
from when Antibes was called Antipolis.
Their smile is not inane but terrifying,
without innocence, duplicity, or harm.
Françoise is pregnant. Before they return
(briefly) to Paris, he paints
on 12/25 a carved grey block on grey,
one end incised with a partial stickman,
another with grapes. 12/26
a more dramatically sculpted block
against cold beige, grapes again
but a loud skull. The next day a skull,
weirdly resembling a flashdrive,
with which Picasso finished my first year.



He was here as a prisoner
in ’44 – ‘46. On the ship
he had sung and acted up
with the rest – a brief furlough
at the enemy’s expense! – but on the train,
crossing the vast green land
with all its cars, he understood
it would win, and accepted that,
dully, like most things. (Not everything;
his family, actually his whole village,
had a fey streak.) The farmer
he was assigned to, immense
and cold, was a familiar figure, his own role
familiar, and soon the farmer said,
“Well, you know one end of a cow
from the other”; and the soldier,
who had learned that much English,
smiled. Nights were hot,
with innumerable loud enormous
bugs, though there was such a wealth
of pesticide! Blacks lived, walked, ate,
made their amusing savage
music at the edge of what he saw.
They occasioned bad dreams,
till he realized that even he
was higher than they. On free
half-days, he wrote halting letters,
and studied moss and trees. Once
the boss and his silent wife
took him to a kind of religious service
in a tent. But the crying
and shrieking, the strange waved salute,
disturbed him, and he was not forced
to return. After the victory,
he was allowed to roam the town.
The graveyard beyond it
seemed old, though the dates
were recent, compared to those in his village.
And many graves (he had learned
some history) were those of traitors …
Beneath that pale moist sky,
he felt how the dead here were
not past but future dead
and there was scarcely enough room for them.



The Wandering Jew isn’t Jewish
but Buddhist. (Finds the role easier.)
His version of the myth
of his origins is strange, surprisingly
upbeat, but he long since forgot it.
Works these days as a bouncer
at the club that took over
the ground floor of a famous hotel
on Lonely Street. (That hotel, by the way,
was supposed to be a boarding house,
but no one cooperated, cooking
or cleaning. Now the rooms
are empty and, rumor has it,
the kitchen is sealed, breeding God knows what.)
They call him by some Chinese-sounding
syllable or other. A little guy,
but there’s nothing he doesn’t know
about locks, throws, pressure points,
crippling and killing touches. (Watch him
in action, and you’d think the natural state
of whatever sized human body
is bouncing off walls or screaming in pain.)
He prefers, however, to defuse
tensions with laughter, mind-games, and a kind
of instantaneous seduction. Meanwhile he mans
the rope. The club
is amazingly popular
for that part of town. Fulgurous light,
heavy metal. Some people
crawl up in their last blood, limos drop
off others. If you ask him about the show,
he’ll shrug. It’s magic. An interesting sort of
pole-dance. A strip down to X-rays.
Perhaps it isn’t a show
at all but an opium den. In any case
the spotty light results from the waving
tentacles of an ultimate black hole,
both male and female at the heart of being.
He giggles. If you ask him about his wanderings,
he’ll talk and talk but it’s all bullshit.
To the general effect that they were bullshit.



The colors are muted jungle.

What’s happening is that broad leaves

overlap. Then their points,

tendrils, hesitantly declare

themselves to be the legs

of wide insects, and there are eyes in there,

looking. So that they aren’t being

absorbed by the forest floor. Perhaps

some muddy transcendence is going on,

and they’re becoming crystal.

So that it’s that rarest

(or so we were taught) of tribal things,

an individual sensibility, an artist

in our sense, who made this. Imagine him

or her, half-mad, sardonic-funny.

Actually, the culture behind him

is what and where? Were influences fused?

The rim of the cup rests more than half

the way down. You contemplate all those shared

germs. And Evans-Pritchard’s description

of how the main wife of a chief rinsed

a visitor’s gourd with her piss. Then you see

and feel that it isn’t baked clay

at all, but plastic. A cleverly faked

antiquity? No, a real product!

So that you can finally put to rest

nostalgia for older worlds and “authenticity.”


Author of two book-length narrative poems, THE ADVENTURE and HAPPINESS, both published by Story Line Press.  A collection of shorter poems, A POVERTY OF WORDS, was published in March 2015 by Prolific Press. Another collection, LANDSCAPE WITH MUTANT, to be published by Smokestack Books (UK), 2018. Pollack has appeared inHudson Review, Salmagundi, Poetry Salzburg Review, Die Gazette (Munich), The Fish Anthology (Ireland),Representations, Magma (UK), Bateau, Fulcrum, Chiron Review, Chicago Quarterly Review, etc.  Online, poems have appeared in Big Bridge, Hamilton Stone Review, Diagram, BlazeVox, The New Hampshire  Review, Mudlark,etc.  Recent Web publications in Occupoetry, Faircloth Review, Camel Saloon, Kalkion, Gap Toothed Madness, Triggerfish. Adjunct professor creative writing George Washington University. Poetics: neither navelgazing mainstream nor academic pseudo-avant-garde.