ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by Frederick Pollack


The Persistence of Forgetting

A grandiose condo, really too big
for empty-nesters, but they can afford it.
So big that the guests, though numerous,
appear in their own eyes and others’
exposed. Even if they invaded
(which they won’t) other people’s spaces,
those spaces swell; sight-lines warp
towards the view, where lights from other condos wink.
Someone says she lost
her car in an airport lot. Had somehow
jotted down the wrong number. Walked up and down
the rows as night fell, and the planes
so close above sifted
their poisons, and their noise was like guilt.
Finally a nice man, etc. Other guests

have lost keys. Our host, a smiler,
very slightly but chronically put-upon, tells
how he came home one night (the wife was away)
and couldn’t find his; and knocked, thinking
his layabout son would eventually rouse
himself, then remembered:
he was gone. (He strikes one, the host, as having
neglected, as they say, to have a life,
surveying it now with equanimity
from whatever he found instead.) No one
so far has forgotten their phone number
or name. Eventually my silence

obtrudes; our hostess says,
You’re a poet, you must remember everything.
Well, I smile, I’ve been trying to remember
something about Delacroix’s
Ovid Among the Scythians. The one where
he’s lying, wearing white, on a rise, perhaps writing,
and the Scythians
rotate around him: a boy with a wolfhound
as big as a bear, a guy milking
a mare (for the poet?), a mother and infant,
warriors. The chieftain, politely kneeling,
is asking Ovid, who looks miserable,
What’s wrong? I’ve often imagined the voices:
O. telling his story, leaving out
the reason for his exile, saying how he misses
his wife. The chief says, I can understand that,
but look at our life, isn’t it noble?
(Then, just after the painting, gesturing
at the background – endless Romantic mountains,
which to O., a Roman, would have been monstrous.)
O. mentions the obstructive weight of exile.
Which all men end in anyway, says the Scythian.
O. can barely believe their civility,
doesn’t trust it, and because they’re barbarians
it doesn’t matter; he wishes they’d go away.
Actually, he would never have left the town,
the governor’s compound. Delacroix
knew this, but perhaps he forgot
or wanted the effect … oh yes,
you asked about forgetfulness.
I’ve forgotten if I’ve ever used this scene.


The Taste Police

The wife is younger, not dressed for effect,
feet bare, nails turquoise, on the Edra sofa,
concentrating in herself whatever
sexuality exists within
a radius of a mile, the whole ancient city.
The husband, bearded, fleshy,
struggles on his laptop to complete
some part of a project.
Hearing a car door close outside,
they glance at each other, raise glasses, grin.

Outside three nuns hurry
along the path by a canal.
Absolved from modern fashion, they look
like commentary on the gliding swans;
by the time Vespers has rung,
both swans and nuns have gone. The old guild banners
ignore the breeze before their respective shops
(electronics stores have none). Gold spotlights
expose dark brick, pale stone,
and heavy-curtained windows but
no litter, and only respectable dust.
On the bell-tower, gargoyles close their eyes.

The Inspector, in his wheelchair, having
weathered, barely, the transition from
his limo past the staid, impeccable
lunettes and moldings of the exterior,
accepts a gin. His aides, who combine
a clerical with a muscular air,
pretend to be unobtrusive. The husband, an architect,
displays plans. “These aren’t for here, I hope?”
“Of course not,” smiles the architect.
The Inspector glances thoroughly about.
Approves how little can be seen from the street.
“The woods and fabrics of the Godless, suicidal
North, the frenzy of Italy,
American gall … all that unbearable lightness,”
he observes. “Say rather,” says the other,
unafraid (for nothing can be seen from the street),
“a structure for the flexible and free.”
The Inspector gazes speculatively
at the impassive gorgeous wife,
then contemplates his drink. “Those drawings of yours
are impressive. Yours may be
of all the arts the least guileful,
for bodies also must inhabit it,
not only minds.” He signals to the aides
to wheel him out. “I wonder though,” he adds,
“about the artist now, the abstract figure,
whose intuition is his only homeland
and who must poison what he makes immortal.”


The Lodge

Eliot himself lets
me in. I’d know him anywhere –
banker/publisher; his tailor’s eulogy:
“Nothing ever quite in excess.”
I’m amazed it’s he, not a tuxedoed attendant,
and by the dereliction of the place:
worn rugs, grubby drapes and leaded panes,
some lamps out; only in corners
a trace of Larkin’s “any-angled light.”
It’s a given that E. doesn’t like me
(another “freethinking Jew”). But politely
he leads to an enormous oval table
in need of wax. Daunty, Gouty and Shopkeeper
(as Joyce called them), Joyce, a few others
at one end. (Goethe obviously
still on bad terms with E., who dissed him
though he walked it back.) Cigars and sherry;
burns, circles on wood. Only those skilled
at denial, some mystics, seem at ease;
most sleep through my induction ritual. Once
I’m in I speak bluntly: “I wasn’t sure
if it was ‘the shifting order
of masterpieces’ or masterpiece-creators.”
“Six of one,” says Shakespeare, who strikes me as
detached. I address Emily Dickinson
about the women issue but she’s shy. “You’ll notice,”
says a voice from the shadows, “there are few
of us around, either. The idea of a canon
is racist.” I sit down, pour a drink;
the voice growls, “That’s about what I expected.”
“I worked my whole life to get here,” I whine,
and add, “I’m not staying,” but he’s gone.
E. appears unsurprised. Almost kindly,
he says “Victims never grasp anything …
Only the master understands.”

Author of two book-length narrative poems, THE ADVENTURE and HAPPINESS, both Story Line Press; the former to be reissued by Red Hen Press. Two collections of shorter poems, A POVERTY OF WORDS, (Prolific Press, 2015) and LANDSCAPE WITH MUTANT (Smokestack Books, UK, 2018). Pollack has appeared in Salmagundi, Poetry Salzburg Review, The Fish Anthology (Ireland), Magma (UK), BateauFulcrumChiron Review, Chicago Quarterly Review, etc.  Online, poems have appeared in Big Bridge, Hamilton Stone Review, BlazeVox, The New Hampshire  Review, Mudlark, Rat’s Ass Review,  Faircloth Review, Triggerfish, Offcourse,  etc.

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