It must be a distant place,
beneath notice, far beneath
the zone where the despised
triumph by despising.
And where the masters, who must have
something of everything and believe
that victims are admired,
proclaim themselves in some way victimized.
They never notice us
and therefore do not envy. There is
an outside, but so compromised
by what’s within, drafty and damp,
that even when we can we seldom
go out into its endless curtailment.
Meals are our seasons, and the expressions
of those who ladle them,
neither kind nor interested nor hostile,
are what we have of nature apart from time.
We eat, and meditate
on what asparagus gave up for us,
the community of soup,
the rumors borne by even the weakest
coffee; then linger
until we’re told to go, and are equally
satisfied with leisure or the command.
There’s a room with books and games,
and an old broken medium whose green-
grey screen shows all we need to see.
Pieces are lost, the cards
have passed through many hands;
the books as is their habit came from elsewhere,
and move too fast, so that no one can catch them
or if we do we let them go.
Sometimes sun breaks through the frayed
curtains or bars. Then on the yellowed
paper in every drawer, somebody writes
for hours, mumbling, bringing
pen to lips, then crumples what was written,
which is what it was for. And sometimes, two
pair off. It’s always obvious,
and we, as subtly, applaud them for it.
When they don’t show up for dinner, breakfast, tea,
we discuss the efficacy
of love. It offers
a world beyond the world beyond our own,
escape, a motive for escape,
a fantasy of the first person plural.
Deliberating which, we fall
silent as dreaming
functionaries in gaudy white
pass through. For they themselves are dreams,
and normally don’t bother us.
But “we” is the most sacred word,
even when casually, unworthily
invoked in kingdoms of the I,
or whispered to oneself behind a wall.
Badiou compels agreement
when he says that the epic
corresponds to the age of the warrior
(king, feudal thug)
while lyric is the art of the soldier,
whose allegiance must be bought, and bought in bulk.
Whatever I wrote, I wrote
on a bunk in a troopship
amid the smell of feet
awaiting a torpedo.
Whoever I was, the “I”
in every other line
was mostly a matter of luck.
And you, who I hoped would read
the words found beside me
in trench or bunker
(they would be handed to you like a flag)
were always the one real thing.
About the Poet
Frederick Pollack is the author of two book-length narrative poems, The Adventure and Happiness, both published by Story Line Press, and the author of a collection of shorter poems, A Poverty of Words (Prolific Press, 2015). He has appeared in Hudson Review, Salmagundi, Poetry Salzburg Review, Die Gazette (Munich), The Fish Anthology (Ireland), Representations, Magma(UK), Iota (UK), Bateau, Main Street Rag, Fulcrum, etc. His poems have appeared online in Big Bridge, Hamilton Stone Review, Diagram, BlazeVox, The New Hampshire Review, Mudlark, Occupoetry, Faircloth Review, Triggerfish, Thunderdome, Modern Poetry Quarterly Review, etc. He is currently adjunct professor of creative writing at George Washington University.