ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


"Access", a poem by Fred Pollack

Access to some

I could have turned my chair so it faced
the trees, now bare, the royal-blue sky,
the geese confused by the weather.
But nature always says the same wise thing
that slides into a stupid thing
if you listen too intently. So I face,
and always have, indoors;
specifically the Midcentury Modern
angles formed by a hallway
(with powder room), a doorway,
and stairs with wide-planked banisters – which,
beyond a landing concealed by a wall, turn
abruptly. Angles 65 degrees
or so. Sharp triangles and trapezoids
of light. Dark wood, with ecru wall
behind and above. One has to
recapture the optimism
of the Machine, of pre-computer
technology, of the period
between the last empires and ours,
however one can; it is my spiritual food.
Just those angles … And of course you can assume
that in that chair I am always reading
and thinking. Do assume that, though I'm not.
Someone along the street has made a fire.
My wife, going out for the mail
(nothing), let in the nice smell.
Our neighbor with white high-piled tight-curled hair
must be walking her poodle;
though the latter is black, they could be sisters.
It should be possible for intellectual
interests, philosophy etc., to appear
in a poem in a sufficiently funky
but unapologetic way; one shouldn't have
to be just a throb or hurt.
In a moment we'll watch, unwillingly, the news,
wanting him to be over, those like him
dead, and wishing we could read instead
some dispassionate, stern future history.
Now the sun, from the window
in the stairwell, turns the beige
wall gold … that religious effect
that comes into its own when doctrine ends.


Access to all

In one of the early Star Wars films, the evil
Palpatine, not yet disfigured
or emperor, attends some sort of
performance. It embodies the defensive
contempt entertainment feels
towards art. On (apparently) a proscenium,
a huge sphere, of indeterminate hue,
attended by vivid, wriggling
streamers, resembling a closeup
of sperms and ovum. No music; wisps of applause
from the nabobs filling the vast auditorium.
The cosmos as a whole might look like that
to a privileged viewer. Not, I mean,
stars, nebulae, black holes,
but Geist. Here a blob
of collective narcissism, there,
in a small sector, a passion for
(in some sense) justice. Other passions,
some unidentifiable.
Mobile arcs of cultural despair. The immense, integral
doubt of the starfish people
jet black; other colors shifting,
shapes projecting, merging, abruptly or slowly
vanishing, reborn. With swathes
of emptiness between. And to watch, of course,
would mean to share,
however dimly, even the great hates.
Having found, not myself, but sensibilities
like mine, I break for a beer. The Shekhinah
(she retains the title though not the funding)
remains glued to the set, her expressions
changing. "One would love to be involved,"
I say, just wanting her attention.
She doesn't respond.
I bring guac and chips. "Of course,"
I say to provoke her, "there may not
be anyone. Any consciousness, any feeling.
It may all just be
entertainment, a projection
of me. And even I …" She shrugs,
appears to enjoy the snack, murmurs,
"They all feel that way."  


Access to none

Though attention is elsewhere (and was never
particularly there), boats full of migrants
still sink in various oceans.
Though the coast guards who rescue some
are often humane, the camps where
survivors are sent aren't;
this division of emotional labor
mirrors that in lands the migrants seek to enter.
So the symbol, as it were the presiding
gesture of the era
remains that of the hand
of a drowned child flopping
over the arm of a would-be rescuer.
Uphill, in the stony camp –
and elsewhere, in large concrete rooms
with tinfoil blankets, also behind wire,
one may contemplate that sign;
and, whatever one was before,
define oneself as the unwanted of
the world. Meanwhile
a similar homogenization
affects one's rejectors, for no one feels more rejected.
So the future will be one of (so to speak)
marching – stumbling, ever-dwindling
yet still vast – crowds,
hungry, met by guns and what feels like hunger.
Behind the latter, to go from great things
to small, poems will be written. Professors
will expect them to end
with neutral landscapes or consoling love.

Author of two book-length narrative poems, The Adventure (Story Line Press, 1986; to be reissued by Red Hen Press) 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, 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), ArmarollaDecember, and elsewhere. Online, his poems have appeared in Big Bridge, Diagram, BlazeVox, Mudlark, Occupoetry, Faircloth Review, Triggerfish, Big Pond Rumours (Canada), MisfitOffCourse and elsewhere.

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