ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by Fred Pollack

Thy Slaughtered Saints

The journey means nothing. Probably
the experience of being there
means nothing; only the fact.
But it’s hard to live and feel like that,
and en route you evoke in yourself a certain
intensity. On the plane, subject
to endless delays and mad fellow-passengers,
on still somehow efficient trains, or perhaps
in clanking buses driven by madmen,
full of pilgrims of whatever religion,
who assume you have a different one, and glare …
Intensity: a will to believe
it’s important you’re here, and to pay attention,
which alone lends, which is,
significance. Even when you try
to read, despite the jouncing of the bus,
the smell. Because what you’re reading
are the words of martyrs, even if the book
has not been banned, the writer poisoned,
raped, jailed, fired, subjected
to online harassment; to extract fact
from lies, metaphor from the garbage-
continent of words is … Outside,
the fields and encroaching waste
pass, sacred as all places are
to ownership, with, here and there, like a plant,
a beggar, and holy buildings where
inevitably someone will say
that everything is holy,
including, abstractly, you …
Behind whatever weather lurks the sun.
You arrive. Location is unimportant.
From intensity, imagine
a mountain, the sort one climbs
to seek a wise man in a cartoon. If
the place is already a shrine, a museum,
wait to enter. If not, make it one,
charming the widower, widow,
or current resident. Circle the desk, admiring,
not touching, the gods. Dump the retrieved
cobwebbed box on the neatly-made
and threadbare cot. Find or imagine
the unknown notebook: The sole
importance of the mountain is that it may
again house glaciers.


A Museum in the Provinces

She’s marvelous about how water and ice
prepared the slope of the land, the depth of its soil;
how vast the forest was at first
and how the earliest people looked;
how they probably intermarried
with others, who were different. Under glass,
a hundred thousand years of sharp
and scalloped edges. Then, abruptly,
beads, a shell from the distant sea;
she mimics putting the necklace on
and smiles: “It would be heavy
but unquestionably chic.” Two bowls with half-
ground grains; a blackened
oblong like a postmodern sculpture,
not obviously a sword.
It lies in a case with coins
and blowups of the profiles on them.
Rapidly she lists
the legions that were sent here;
“Apparently we were a rebellious lot!”
Enthusiasm for the sagging glass
perfume bottles. For a floor
from the villa, all vines and sheaves;
“There’s another one, with gladiators,
all buff and mean-looking, each with his name;
it can’t be moved.” Barbarians damaged it,
as well as the first church; a cross
missing an arm and most of its gilt
appears to sadden her as much as
the mosaic. Beyond a lowering suit of armor,
luxuries: a golden Byzantine bird,
“comparable to the one in
New York!”; a wisp once silk.
Then portraits that go on for centuries.
Her features are identical
to those of a certain countess with sculpted hair;
aware of this, she hurries past
that painting, hoping no one mentions it.
A cannon. Under glass,
newspapers in the joyful foul-mouthed
style of that year. A guillotine.
A letter from
the Emperor to the mayor. The collars, whiskers,
medals but not bellies
of the male portraits change, the women try
for decades to look like Greeks,
and it’s hard to grasp her boredom as,
efficiently, she explains, indicts,
excuses some of these people. What
comes after are mostly photographs.
Shells, filthy flags;
helmets, signs, and implements
of the enemy, but mostly photos, and lists
of heroes and victims.
It’s possible she lingers at one of these.
Along the last wall, models
of highways, malls; photos
of smiling, different faces.
With that lovable and now-familiar
blush, she announces
this has been her last tour;
she has been privileged and honored,
etc. Doesn’t add that
to pursue her studies she’s off
to where the men are better, and the shops.


If You Know Your Party’s Extension

If you’re an artist, History talks to you
only about style. And History
is a committee, whose spokesperson,
young, waspish, seems to lack
special status. “You – ” she states,
“we’ll assume ‘your persona’ – often
meet in your poems an older figure
who provides cutting remarks
or more cutting circumlocutions
about you, and whose nihilism excuses
your pessimism. It’s usually male,
and we’re amazed that, at your age,
you cling so unselfconsciously
to Oedipal motifs.” By now
I’m somewhat prepared for this. They

circled: a Hyperborean-pale
dude questioned my non-
representation of blacks; someone in
a wheelchair brought up my neglect
of the body, or was it the gender thing;
now they’re getting personal.
“It might also,” I suggest,
“be God … I’ve often
said I’m a religious poet
hampered by being an atheist!”
Pleased with this sally, though at best
it’s a holding action, I glance
again across the table. A hipster,
much-pierced, smiles
superiorly. Which is fine:

to question me would interrupt the smile.
An apparent proletarian (Global
South?), hunched in his chair,
weeps. Hunger, I think, village,
kids; but if I tried to express
solidarity, he’d switch
to rage. A more humanoid
Jabba the Hutt, richly tailored,
growls: “I suggest you stop
observing us to find
allegorical meanings.” And he’s right:
the cassock in shadows,
the vaguely embarrassed, suborned
uniform, the suits (what do suits mean, anyway?)
are cryptic, hazy. I’d be

more scared if they were confident,
substantial … “But I myself
am allegorical,” I say,
and start to rant about the one that
most frightens me: directly across
the table, plugged into various
cables plugged into
it, eyes flickering
across an internal screen;
it doesn’t respond to me, I haven’t
been processed. “Your antipathy
to media,” smiles the spokesperson, “is,
how shall we put it – ” So age, I think,
belatedness is the case
they’re making. “Power is lies and numbers,”

I reply, which isn’t bad though weak in context.
What we should be discussing
are the film and chyron
pacing the walls of the room, that are those walls:
the drowning refugees and littorals,
the crowds beating and beaten,
the jowl-language … like any
two-way mirror they raise the question
which side one’s on. Now messages flash
in pop-ups, and I wonder
which enemy or interpreter
in the room has sent them: The soul
is momentary, like the word
If you like, call it eternal
Time is an error of eternity


Author of two book-length narrative poems, THE ADVENTURE and HAPPINESS, both Story Line Press; the former reissued 2022 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 (2016. ’18, ’19. ’20, ’21) etc.

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