ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by Frederick Pollack

The Winged Helmet

Previously, the detective had shown
few signs of an inner life. Then he began
to talk to corpses. ("Didn't see that coming,
did you, friend? Well, take it easy now.")
His team discussed this with him:
"It's peculiarly both
affected and unselfconscious. We like it."
Then he professed
to be able to smell blood types, residual
pheromones, varietals of fear,
and to have no interest in suicides.
But it wasn't until that apartment
with all its drawers exposed, safe
open, files tossed
to the floor, that his behavior
raised eyebrows. "The jewels
are crap. The jewels are as fake
as the robbery. The safe is crap;
there are only two or three guys,
thirty blocks from here, with real money.
No, it's the files. And we'll go over them,
with all their crossing-out and underlining,
and find they point towards one page,
but he who wrote and took it is long gone."


Witness Protection

It wasn't that he was afraid
(though he was) of what he would see.
He believed the window itself,
now that whoever was watching
knew he was there, would refuse him,
go dark, seal him in.
He would have liked venetian blinds,
behind which people
think they're invisible. But now the ring
that hung from the shade
distracted him, like other small clean objects –
tabs of desiccant, pens, keyrings;
how wonderful, apparently,
that the world contains such things
and allowed him to hold them!
He looked almost prayerful,
and faced the outside more bravely,
and raised a hand as if to bless
or make something go away.

And the angel, who was beautiful –
the bureau, he thought, accepts no less –
and never stood too far from him
or too close, reassured him
by facial expression alone:
You have suffered. I see
it. What you have seen,
I see. I take it into myself,
where it becomes innocuous, anodyne,
gone. (She wouldn't talk unless he did,
but knowing she was there he had no need.)
She's something like a liver
or kidney, he thought. From somewhere far
away, farther than she
had come, he conjured
a smile for her, though respectfully
oblique. And for a moment felt
no need to handle objects
or even look outside, yet would not sit.


The Linen Closet


Everything says money,
but humbly. Says,
We live here comfortably,
fostering each other's freedom;
would do so under
democratic socialism.
An old Northeast progressive feel and tone
but this is the other coast, the sunset one,
the walls its darker wood. I decide not to feel
like a poor relation,
curiosity or beggar
as I have among the upper crust forever.
Instead I become, even to myself,
an honored guest. Accept
at breakfast hotcakes, berries, side
of bacon with praise but somehow as
my due. Ignore nicely
the swarming, voluble, creative children.
Listen thoughtfully
to our tirelessly engagée
hostess. Outside, white and grey
clouds speeding towards Vancouver
alternate over the islands. One of which,
I learn, allows no power;
candles glow at night. One harbored Nazis;
now, I'm informed, there are leftist green
survivalists with plans. I let
the wind and wide perspectives work
till I'm past all pretension. Don't speak;
then speak, integrating all the books
on their shelves. By the next night, their friends
have driven or boated in
from other mansions. Then the activists,
yogis, artists, a masseuse. Possessed,
I break only for dinner. On the third night
they suddenly take out their wallets. I tell them
to give it all to the poor, but they give it to me.


A bit of string, a safety-pin,
a plastic sewing-kit, wafer-thin,
from some hotel might lurk
in the corners of those shelves,
but not – I firmly believe –
dust. Instead there's a kind
of anti-dust, spontaneously
created by clean fabrics.
(Though Mother never said this,
I learned it from her.) I won't claim
to iron sheets, but I do fold them, and
love how they compress each other.
Like sediment. Beside them towels,
piled by me, hot from the dryer or merely
warm if I have put my face in them.
Where these things are is order,

innocent and deep,
apparently predestined despite
the work involved. Last year
we stuck a battery-powered plastic bulb
(adhesive base) to the wall
between shelves. Completely unnecessary
but cheap. I used to turn it on,
then off – soft yellow light –
but never actually used it.
The string broke, froze somehow, it couldn't
be pulled. I tugged the thing from the wall.
It left a paintless patch that distresses me
more than the peeling ceiling of my study.


Time to sum up. To women,
I was a man. To feminists, a man.
To men, nothing in particular.
To the 1% and its managers, less.
To friends, insightful
except where it counted.
Shrinks and editors likewise. To
Bin Laden and Al-Baghdadi, meat
for hyenas. Same for beggars
I made eye-contact with. To sponsors
and producers of cop-shows,
an object of great love. To my last
doctors, typical. To liberal believers,
shallow; the others would summon
hyenas again, or an equivalent.
Crocodiles. And to a reliable
vein of opinion, septic in places,
a Jew. The ideal future would have seen,
and forgiven?, a rentier; the real one
is lost in dreams of water and protein.
For the rest, my wife loved me, and I gave
a lot to progressives in the 2018
midterms. Some redemptive
subjective abstraction sets off
fireworks (not just those cheap Mall puffballs
but St. Catherine's wheels, mad rockets)
while Janaček's Sinfonietta
blares over a beach. As for Language and Culture …
well, the less said about them the better.


At which point Anne died.
At home, bed and drips
on the ground floor, tended by her granddaughter
(who may have been glad to get away
awhile from her gun nut husband).
She took Ashley, who had seldom left
Anne's side, at night or when, throughout the days,
she picked up leaves from the lane –
in the last years with a reacher-grabber.
White blue-eyed cat, who only towards the end
approached other people.
The hospice people also came,
and the couple from next door.
Once, an old man with an accordion
sat in her garden and played
Swiss mountain songs from her childhood.
(She had talked once, in her cool way,
of the Heinkels violating airspace,
and the poor food of those years.)
The granddaughter said she heard this.
Now the house is dark. The gardener
who makes his living from the lane
and with whom Anne liked to squabble
stood awhile by his truck
and said how different it felt.
The leaves fall and will not be gathered.


Author of two book-length narrative poems, The Adventure (Story Line Press, 1986) and Happiness (Story Line Press, 1998), and two collections, A Poverty of Words (Prolific Press, 2015) and Landscape with Mutant (Smokestack Books, 2018). In print, Pollack's work has appeared in Hudson Review, Southern Review, Salmagundi, Poetry Salzburg Review, Manhattan Review, Skidrow Penthouse, Main Street Rag, Miramar, Chicago Quarterly Review, The Fish Anthology (Ireland), Poetry Quarterly Review, Magma (UK), Neon (UK), Orbis (UK), and elsewhere. Online, his poems have appeared in Big Bridge, Diagram, BlazeVox, Mudlark, Occupoetry, Faircloth Review, Triggerfish, Offcourse and elsewhere.

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