Frederick Pollack



The Oil Peaks


The dead are, as usual, fighting. Some
believe they are superior
because they died, as they put it, “wild”
or in the wild—plane crashes, wars, volcanoes,
gunfire in hotel rooms far from home,
homeless—leaving little
or nothing to put into the ground;
the others had insurance and a stone.
Each side despises the other,
one viewed as rootless and anarchic,
the other as oppressive and elitist.
Each has its heroes—kings,
and those who went “up the chimney”—
and each its extremist groups.
They are the weather, storms are their campaigns,
but have no interest in the living
except as recruits;
and each expects final victory,
though history seems to favor
that side whose slogan is Freedom rather than Order.


Our Queen is an intelligent woman;
she won’t abide intellectuals.
Has turned political correctness
into an explicit and elaborate set
of taboos. We can’t even
refer to the City cannibals
now making their way up the boulevard
as savages—only “the unhappy”;
we kill them, presumably, because we love them.
The golf course has been plowed—
our rations observe new sumptuary laws—
and anyone not off fighting
will walk behind a horse’s ass forever.
(Race horses unfit for plowing,
but they or their colts will learn.
The owners made good deals
and are now Her Majesty’s loyal barons.)
Our grand old suburb doesn’t look so bad.
It looks like one of those parties that got out of hand.
One wonders if houses are happier
when they burn to the ground, and nature
moves in quickly.
It’s the sort of thought that gets one
assigned to a forward unit
with the first of the new crossbows,
a turnip, and some rusty cans of fruit;
wondering when art will be needed;
thinking how nice people were,
at first, to park,
and how the prevailing form
for a long time to come—
cars, corpses, turds—
will be oblong.


Hysteria is overload
(and perhaps best
seen as endemic,
only occasionally overt).
But is the diagnosis, the news
item at last
intolerable, personal, real, really
too large to grasp? Isn’t it,
rather (all tears are
of frustration), too small
for vast, clumsy fingers
to hold, or even find? That button
incapable of being undone. That pearl.


Now that the gristly European angels
of “Wings of Desire” have decamped, we—
a we that has no I—alone
care. We too report
to an authority whose intentions
inspire little confidence: those men
who view our images, and point to one,
and blow it up, and file
a billion passersby for later judgment …
we are their eyes but see far more than they.
In an enormous mall, two friends
or sisters (not immediately placed)
enter and move more slowly than the crowd,
because of age and because they are rapt.
That couch no husband will sit on;
that scarf whose colors match none they know,
being so much fairer; kitchenware
for unimaginable meals, bags
and perfume for no earthly cruise,
and toys for nephews long past innocence …
delight. It scarcely matters
the girls buy nothing but a shared salad.
From level to level, floor to floor,
we pass them back and forth among ourselves
like a rumor of virtue. Behind them
unruly children, abstractly mourned,
inappropriate, shout, bump,
push, fight (a diversion), shoplift
and flee. The obese, who have found
a way of being and buying enough,
amble in loving pairs
and gaze as if at neutral things. Behind them
dust fills the shelves, the brief
vitality of mold the food court;
the fabrics blanch and fray; the glass,
dispersed like seed, returns to sand;
and night for us comes on like bankruptcy …
Sometimes, from our discreet
positions, looking back and forth, we see
each other; sometimes
at the end of an arc we pause
to hold each other in our view.
If a human could bear another’s eye
that long, we ask ourselves, would it mean love?


I alone am responsible for everything.
Was cruel, in her last days, to Mother.
Vain. Stagnated
for years. Freeloaded.
Wasted paper and water. Therefore I accept,
willingly, abuse
from those who gather round me in the gloom—
protected from them only by the convention,
increasingly threadbare, that confession,
manly and obsessive, disarms.
The former pensioner. The cop in rags.
That shockingly white, big-bellied child.
With nothing better to do and no more convenient
scapegoat within crawling distance,
they toss at me their final garbage, time:
our millennium, that clientless prostitute.
They are so loud and mutually deaf
that as guilt runs out
I find I can shout
anything at them. Poetry.
How dull they are and want to be.
How a repeated spike
appeared on the scopes at the VLA
the day before their power was cut;
insuring that, through the long and sour
normality before us, I will never
receive the alibi I counted on.


The Secretary of Energy is meeting
with former and future colleagues.
And because they are as competent as trains,
most of the conversation is about football,
wives, and, laughingly,
the animals obstructionists
are brandishing like totems at this project:
the ringtailed beaverbob. The sticklebear.
The migrant horny snake. The short-haired widow.
Necessity need not be mentioned, only
obeyed. What remains
is to talk to someone at Interior
and then … he shrugs. The legislative shrug.
Thereafter lunch, then family and dinner
and, because he is on the team,
prayer. The Secretary
tries very seriously
to think of Jesus as a man, not merely
the ultimate source of all power;
and sees Him, and speaks with Him, and rises refreshed.


New Year’s. The first of the New Snows
after the first of the Great Heats.
All afternoon the stationary sirens.
But a little thing like all this
won’t keep the people from Times Square,
even if they have to go on skis
or roped together through the tunnels.
I’m reading Brathwaite: That moment
of utter disaster, the very moment
when it seems almost hopeless, too difficult to
proceed, you begin to glimpse
a kind of radiance on the other end
of the maelstrom; which heartens me,
and in my notebook I begin to think
how to broadcast that fact to the world,
to hearten it. Of course we won’t go out.
New page, thinking I’ll write
about my love, but she wants to see
the ball drop. Maybe stop
at Jarhead’s or Commando’s, and find
that our friends who didn’t invite us
invited no one else, but gathered there …
we’d drink to the New Year and radiance.
But to open all those locks—?
On our shelves, the ceramic vase
has the shape of the cooling tower
of a nuclear plant; the Mayan
ballplayer appears to have lost (or won).
The big abstract has suddenly
resolved into a tear;
even Bach is intolerable …
So, no more art. We’ll go out
into a crush so great
that bombers setting themselves off will feel
a new, sardonic life
emerge from shards of flesh and steel,
awareness descend like snow,
their god dissolve in puddles.
The heatstruck of last summer
will clasp, like leathered Westerners, the cool
firm hands of those who froze tonight.
And as the crowd cries TEN … NINE … EIGHT
the cups of all the beggars
will fill with everything it has to give.
Brownouts will strobe the towers; signs
will dim a while but then return in glory,
the newsboards urging us to suffer
only that fear in which we all must live.


Frederick Pollack is 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. Pollack has appeared in Hudson Review, Salmagundi, Poetry Salzburg Review, Die Gazette (Munich), The Fish Anthology (Ireland), Representations, Magma (UK), Bateau, Fulcrum, Chiron Review, Chicago Quarterly Review and others. Online, his poems have appeared in Big Bridge, Hamilton Stone Review, Diagram, BlazeVox, The New Hampshire Review, Mudlark and others, with recent publications in Occupoetry, Faircloth Review, Camel Saloon, Kalkion, Gap Toothed Madness and Triggerfish. Pollack is an adjunct professor of Creative Writing at George Washington University, and describes his poetics as “neither navelgazing mainstream nor academic pseudo-avant-garde.”