Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998
Three Poems by Frederick Pollack
Curse of Late Birth
I knew who he was ("which is more,"
he quipped later, "than I do"):
one of those in whose childhood
the Wall fell, barbed wire
was for the moment removed;
and on whom the great dead
silenced or exiled poets
(lying now in French or Long Island soil
or in some castle in his capital) –
the brave, the humanistic, the internationalist,
the much-translated – weighed like an incubus.
"One of the freed," he said, free at last
to write about love and lovers,
the old regime of swans
and parents, gender confusion
at three AM, and at five
the light upon vast empty factories.
A cathedral like the binding knot
in a mystic rug of slums and days,
and its discreet inhabitant.
Money, implicit in the theme of travel.
And travel, which was why he was here.
The dark locks and combustive eyes
of the singer made up for
the deficiencies of her guitar.
I asked my colleague if he'd visited
the Valley of the Fallen;
described it; murmured that I thought
the owner of this joint the type
who lays bouquets there on the grave of Franco.
The sea lapped. Even in translation
his adjective for its smell was, I said, perfect.
"We had a right to normality and its themes,"
he said. "It isn't my fault
if the Weltgeist turned a whine into a slogan."
We matched each other glass for glass
of a fiery brandy – nothing, he claimed,
to those back home. With the tactlessness
one expects of Americans, I asked him
about home: antisemitism,
censorship, the suppression of
the courts. He answered somewhat,
then mentioned that my country also
wasn't doing so well. "The fall of a republic,"
I smiled, "other things being unequal,
is a great time for poets;
we suggest with our blood the plot
for movies of the future.
I may never return." But by now we were talking
past each other, his accent thicker:
"The job of the wanderer is to learn
the defects of other people's houses."
I wish I'd said that, but was sure he had,
and raised my glass. "To your health, wanderer."
"And yours, Jew."
Is There a Problem?
It is of course Bartleby. But so few people
read, nowadays, he isn't recognized.
During the last century he picked up
an alias, the documents
without which no one can live, and some
computer skills. Gets a job:
data entry. In some lights
oblique to the steady ceiling light, his skull
becomes visible, a skull without
the usual cheery grin; but lacking words
for this, people don't notice. He's
ignored at lunchtime, writing in a notebook.
Security cams pick up the skull,
and his swift nightly shadow
dodging janitors, sleeping among files,
washing self and clothes
in a restroom. (Hair dryer in desk).
His interrogators aren't
as nice or psychologically curious
as his original narrator, and when he comes out with
his toneless signature line, "I would prefer
not to," they call a psych ward.
(At his desk, not working, while he waits he writes.)
The shrink has some sensitivity,
and in the moment it takes
to decide drugs and dosages, asks what he's writing.
"Right question, wrong context," says Bartleby.
"Excuse me?" says the shrink.
A sigh. "In the requisite postmodern way
it's this story, facile and inevitable."
The game is played one way
in Honduras, another in Tepito,
but the double roll of the dice
is the same, and we worked out a compromise.
We play it whenever we're not
checking our phones, reassuring our families,
painting our nails, or dealing
with him. Mostly he sleeps.
We giggle about his repertoire of farts.
Sometimes he falls out of bed and we have to change
his diaper, and he curses and grabs us,
and once he overturned his tray of pills.
His hair is still like nothing else in nature.
We're on our best behavior
when la Señora comes, her face
with its multiple lifts as scary in its way
as his; but she doesn't come often.
Nor do the sons, those obvious rateros.
We'd like to watch the big TV, but it's in
the dusty forbidden rooms and apparently broken.
We know who he was but are paid well.
Fred 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, 2015 from Prolific Press. Another collection, LANDSCAPE WITH MUTANT, 2018 from Smokestack Books (UK). 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, Manhattan Review, etc. Online, poems have appeared in Big Bridge, Allegro, BlazeVox, The New Hampshire Review, Mudlark, Occupoetry, Faircloth Review, Triggerfish, Thunderdome, OffCourse (#s 35 and 64), Neglected Ratio, and more. He is adjunct professor of creative writing at George Washington University.