“A Good Thing” by Frederick Pollack


She is seated. He kneels before her
or at her side. They have been,
are, crying, but the expression
of both blurred faces
is now … exceptional. She can’t believe
what she is hearing,
no one could – had never dared
to hope … Something like that.
He can’t believe what he is saying
with such difficulty,
against such resistance,
and meaning every word. His words
have come a long way. Hers
when they,
when it at last is spoken,
will have come farther. He clasps,
convulsively, her hands,
one hand. Has still not dared to touch her.
Any words one would use
to summarize theirs
would be wrong; I used “hope” because
I had to. Have no idea
otherwise what the situation is.
He or she has come back.
Really. The past is dead,
really. It, he, she, they, I
can’t hurt you any more,
I swear it. – Or, with the cynicism
that seems absolutely barred here:
the sort of reconciliation scene
common in the households of abusers. –
No plot could digest this intensity.
A cause would cheapen this effect.
Christians might think of the Annunciation,
but I don’t believe in that.
Whatever is happening here is more important.


An allegorical figure
howls enough to terrify
villages, or even an interchange, developments.
He’s pissed because I made him
exist, and allegory –
no, the idea
of representing anything
is so urgently dead
all taste is appalled.
And what he represents is
so petty: poetry
invoked, not with disembodied reverence
but as an awkward shorthand
for any alienated consciousness.
Realism, kitsch, little stories
of little alienated lives
shatter the crystal symbol,
sour the Mallarméan music,
bind free association … Dreadful!
Vulgar! The figure
thrashes and storms, his fiery breath
consumes whatever knights are sent
against him. Disrupts both visible and invisible
traffic, hurls texts, scatters
texts, smashes
pre-modern mementos
in the dens of the learned, beer mugs and trophies
elsewhere. His rage grows on and at itself,
and the scream rises like fulfillment.


In the ‘20s, he points his quill
and trims his wick and spares
a thought for places
whence the spices
and ivory on this bill of lading came.
It is an innocent entertainment,
not conducive to sin.
Outside, the riot of election night
has passed; the Celt
sleeps off in dung his rum-bought vote,
and is consigned in thought
to the farthest end of a canal,
the wilderness of the Northwest.
The steps of the watch, the bells of a church
define time, and the silence
in which a son, condemned for some infraction
to the root cellar,
enters another time.
Whom Pride has captured, Fear alone can save. –
He wants tea, but forbears to wake his slave.

In the ‘30s, she switches off
the news, and lights
her nightly cigarette.
Her maid has gone to bed.
Her husband too, no doubt, in his sleeper-car.
It will take two weeks to miss him,
and he’ll be gone two weeks
seeing people in Washington.
Cook kept her company;
cook can talk easily, without presumption.
Is glad of the work, and perhaps the talk,
a widow, with a boy in the Navy …
Alone, she wishes fall would come:
leaves on the grounds, drinks by the fire,
trips to town to shop;
the windows closed (less soot
from the surviving mill
for the maid to clean);
Roosevelt out, God willing,
and fewer tramps appearing at the gate.

In the ‘40s, she opens
the moldy book she cannot read
(there are loads, in the strange place they found)
and looks one last time
at a panther, purple and fierce.
Her brother is … playing.
It’s weird, not to see him ferreting
through holes too small for her and not
being hungry. The soldiers
in white sealed suits
are saving them. They’re special.
They survived. So did a lot of kids,
but she and her brother
(she understands this)
are cute. The soldiers and doctor
have said they can’t take anything.
She called them shitfuckbastards, but fuck it.
Soon the panther is claimed
by heat and gas and rising sea
and in her heart ceases to be.


A poet at parties
where, as a stranger,
he has nothing to gain or fear,
may obscurely triumph.
But they have to be parties
with adjectives other than “nice,”
good scotch, and a modicum
of consciousness, i.e.,
unease before platitudes. –
As always, I scattered booklists.
Complimented our hostess
for doing (trying to do)
with her mountain what Cézanne did
with his. Escaped a woman
whose “I don’t know” and “I don’t understand”
were weapons of varying caliber:
wide for the Israel/Hezbollah war,
wider for “why we just go on
killing each other!” (Learned,
however, she did good work,
in the city, with Somali children
horrified by girls
in shorts, and beaten
by black, white, and brown.) Our host
showed off his Japanese prints
the way another millionaire would
his cars. (The courtesan
in a blue cloak, mincing
forward while peering
impossibly back, like an owl … )
But he also told me
that the vast twilit forest
below his verandah
was all new growth; when Emerson
and Thoreau climbed the mountain,
they looked out on fields.
My back was to the sunset
as the sixtyish Dean’s Secretary
blurted her story. Twenty-eight years
with a cold but only verbally abusive
atheist. (Which explained
her nervous, repeated stress
on the word “spiritual” …
I nodded and rumbled wisely.)
Her second husband, meanwhile,
the Jungian analyst
who was talking to my wife, was
left after almost as long
for another woman.
He fixed me with a watery eye
when I described my “Vader” poems,
and said, “But it’s you, isn’t it?
You’re the Dark Lord.
Considering what you say you try
to do to the reader …”
That was the high point.
After dinner I wandered
farting among birches,
a tree I’ve always loved,
although I have never lived
near one. It’s the way they keep
their peeling bark, like writers’ desks
displaying all their crumpled drafts. –
Forgot to mention, there were kids
(grandchildren, well-behaved),
who now, on the verandah,
wished upon the Perseids.


Summer is winding down.
The insult
the earliest civilizations
began in, under which the last will end –
hundred-degree heat
with compound interest of humidity –
becomes memory.
This manic phase
with its attendant nightmares
may signal early dementia
or turbulent late birth.
At a corner with two banks
and a realtor, cars
become mere indices
of motion and purpose,
the smog a sketch of sky,
now of a later
in which not only “I”
holds things together.
That saying, Whom the gods would destroy
they first make mad could be
rephrased: No glimpse of love
or power without limit
will be tolerated – although
it flickers in the eye
of even the most passive passerby.

Profile: Frederick Pollack

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