Poems by Frederick Pollack

From the Nineties | Sunshower | Free to Go

We’re Done Here | Anon. | For an Anniversary

From the Nineties

My main philosopher, the heir
of Diogenes, finds himself
in heaven. Time to heal
and adjust, hence a measure of time itself
is granted newcomers. Cioran feels
the cloying nullity of Alzheimer’s
(“Are you Cioran?” “I used to be” —
last public remark) recede,
complexity and vital guilt
return, and an assurance,
for the first time since his early twenties,
of sleep. Online news
and the concierge keep him informed
(one doesn’t simply know, as in Dante).
His books, most importantly
those lost in various transits, line his shelves.
But God remains obnoxious,
subtle and malicious,
mendacity noisy and lively,
worse on this side, so Cioran returns to work.
His focus widens.
He begins to notice America.
(Gallimard prints everything.)
He would like to find and punch out
Paul, but that can wait.
He and Nietzsche text,
make plans to meet for drinks, but that too is deferred.
Except for midnight walks by the Seine,
he never leaves the flat. Each day
a crowd of Iron Guard
singing “Căpitanul!” on the street below
wait to hail and embrace him;
they haven’t heard or refuse to believe
he renounced them.


Two apartment buildings, of the sort
one sees in a small town
that imagined briefly it would grow.
Fourplexes, large enough
for a century of cabbage,
drains, patent medicine, greasefires,
blood dried and hidden. They even have names,
still legible in sandstone.
The passage between them
gives out on trees. It’s raining back there,
not in front. One seeks a rainbow.

He has come slowly down
to water the pots in front, the grace
of his building. He doesn’t extend
the hose from the side of the building but fills,
from it, a watering-can,
which he bears to his flowers,
although it’s hard for him to carry now.
My practice is to observe
the marginal from its edges.
He senses me on the curb,
or not exactly the curb but the dusty
space between it and his sidewalk,
and focuses on me a lifetime’s hatred.

Free to Go

They aren’t interested in punishment
or blame, in whichever order,
but won’t accept excuses. So
at length and very thoroughly, I
confess (a term they avoid;
I’m merely “making a statement”).
At first I backtrack, explain, excuse,
with facial contortions, shrugs. They respond with,
worse than impatience, patience; and by
the end, just wanting to finish,
I’m being objective, using
whatever value-judgments come to mind.
They’ve provided water, coffee; now,
with thanks, they point me
in the direction of the cafeteria.
Which in fact is well-appointed; rather
pastel decor, my deep-
dish pizza authentically Chicago.
Women at nearby tables
(how do they know each other, here?),
cheerful but not uproarious,
project so much awareness and self-
assurance that eventually I just keep
my head down, not even
smiling at an archetype of mine.
Guys seem mostly subdued,
keeping it together. One tough-looking group
(I remember the Yiddish word “shtarkers”)
barely reacts when one of its members
fades. I wish I had something to read,
but can’t imagine what. I go back
for dessert — it’s all-you-can-eat — and
reflect on the sticky floor and whatever I was.

We’re Done Here

He resembled the unusual Fasting Buddha
in Lahore, the eyes a memory
endlessly far within
their sockets, bone arms, the bone hands
resting on each other as if holding
the ghost-joke of a belly,
the smile approaching that
of a skull. Yet when ordered to
by the almost-hysterical cops, he gave
his name, the last place he had lived,
and what he had been,
his voice still strong. They wanted
to club, to break that skeleton, hear it
clatter on the pavement.
What stopped them wasn’t lack
of resistance, which only enrages,
but seeing so little life
that ending it would take
no effort and no time, which validate.
As well as, in their peripheral vision,
all along that street
of dying stores flashing neon
and shoppers not quite knowing what to feel,
a line of other seated starving youths,
without signs or slogans but with
that smile. So they called
for backup, hoping the lieutenant
himself would come,
a big man who projected confidence.


For your work to appear
signed thus you need paper.
The Internet demands a name
to deliver to advertisers;
whatever else you leave there joins
the universal blur. But paper
can be torn from a book,
or exist as the back of a Habsburg broadside.
A soldier (officer, literate)
who has wrought and witnessed horrors
employs it. In that war
the “Swedish drink,” boiled shit, is aggressively
served to people hiding gold
or daughters. Dipping his plume
in chicken blood, the captain indites
a capable sonnet bemoaning
God’s wrath, and the absence
of one not to be raped. Later,
the veteran of a labor camp
returns to find his favorite spot,
like the Jew who owned it, gone;
drinks are weak at the new place,
light wrong, traffic growing;
on the back of the bill he too
addresses a girl,
and leaves her on the bar.
                                          Then in early
second-wave feminism, a housewife
(who has plenty of paper;
she takes it from his desk) writes
of loneliness and fists;
neatly seals and stamps it,
unsigned. It rather blows away

the rest of that (remaindered) anthology.

For an Anniversary

As you fell asleep, we were still clasping,
tightly, each other’s wrists,
and what I felt, I realized,
was first my own pulse, then yours
almost as closely, same pace,
syncopated. I don’t remember
feeling exactly that in all the years.

Then as you slept, still holding, I thought
of people I had known,
some well, or well enough, or hardly at all;
and whether it had ended well or ill,
viewed them benignly. They would have been
surprised to find themselves the cells
of one vast body, sleeping far away.

Later I dreamed, the college dream again,
which anyone who went to college knows.
But the endless corridors, the missed exams
have lost their terrors; even the physical plant
is a shambles. And in a classroom
an old prof, preoccupied and alone, said,
Not everything is graded.

Frederick Pollack is the author of two book-length narrative poems, The Adventure and Happiness, both from Story Line Press; the former to be reissued by Red Hen Press. Two collections of shorter poems, A Poverty of Words, (Prolific Press, 2015) and Landscape with Mutant (Smokestack Books, UK, 2018). 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, Mudlark (2007, 2016), Rat’s Ass Review, Faircloth Review, Triggerfish, etc.

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