Two Poems by Frederick Pollack

The verb unite, from some lost manifesto,
has drawn them here. But there’s no sign
they will, or can: glaring, or attitudinizing
within themselves and carefully deadpan.
Some, at the lights, decide,
almost together, there’s light enough
from the windows, which are too high
to show anything but normal spiteful sky.
Others attempt to find a working plug
for the coffeemaker; then,
failing, observe the grey
tiles and chairs with their ambience of AA,
and each other. There’s no unity
where no one leads, and I
(thinks each of them) can’t. Won’t.
I have responsibilities. I keep
things going, to one bad end or another;
my role is not to choose but to regret.

So they sit and desultorily discuss
position papers, of which no two copies,
however, seem identically worded.
Someone has slipped up, or devolved
responsibility to the point there is none.
At the end of the long table joined
from smaller tables, someone’s mind
wanders. He’s a believer,
but worries whether after
so many years he can still shovel
energy and hope through a hole in the sky.
Could decide that ethics emerge by themselves,
or let them go … A woman mourns
(though no new furrow breaks her face)
how no one will now look at her;
urges herself to find
more interest in events like this,
a way through dry ideas to drier peace.

And one who has just sung a long,
detailed, heartfelt, humane and obsolete
aria finds his attention
drifting through the question period,
which also drifts. He recalls, perhaps, a sled.
Or the sled from a classic film.
In either case an object he once rode.
Remembers love, ideals, long-past
or never quite forthcoming afternoons.
Outside, a sullen rain begins.
Consensus builds towards lights.
The wall, however colorless, behind
each face creates a figure-ground
anomaly. Loose contacts, cut
and tangled wires yearn
for outright ruin or repair;
the sensitive are sensitive to this
and wonder which will be decided here.

The Maid
Sonia lives in a plaster mudpie
raisined with German, partisan, Serbian,
and NATO shrapnel and
stained where pipes break.
She works downhill and up another hill
in a glass lozenge
overlooking a much-visited
bay, cathedral, fortress, red
tiled roofs, and their photographers in shorts.

Guests from the EU, IMF,
OECD and the mostly German
bankers leave towels
in heaps, unspeakable sheets,
and broken glass but tip
like earlier Americans. Their advances
have a certain shamefaced charm,
verging (again like Americans) on
the confessional. Except when French.

More recent delegates (from Svoboda,
Jobbik, Golden Dawn et al)
to neofascist head-to-heads
with drug and arms mafiosi tip
not at all; are at least as messy
(unless sheer nihilism makes them neat),
and nasty. Sonia has wound up
pregnant once, in the hospital
twice, but needs the job.

In her scant leisure, she reads.
It is not man who commands the times
but the times that command man wrote
the oldest Romanian chronicler,
as quoted by Cioran, a favorite. Her one
prayer, entirely secular, is
that those who despise
others enough to kill them should
themselves be killed, except for her.

About the Poet
Frederick Pollack is author of two book-length narrative poems, The Adventure and Happiness, both published by Story Line Press, and author of a collection of poems, A Poverty Of Words, forthcoming from Prolific Press. He is also adjunct professor of creative writing at George Washington University and has many poems in print and online journals. Poetics: neither navelgazing mainstream nor academic pseudo-avant-garde.