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POETRYETC  2002

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Subject:

"The Strangest Guest"

From:

Frederick Pollack <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Poetryetc provides a venue for a dialogue relating to poetry and poetics <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 14 Oct 2002 11:12:51 -0400

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text/plain

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I can't help but feel that all this talk of"American imperialism"
conceals a kind of yearning ... which became one (though only one) of
the subjects of this poem.


The Strangest Guest


1

I suppose the secret of pain
is to regard whatever isn't
as blessed.  Imagine you're being held
underwater
by some particularly cruel
hitman.  The sky you can see,
inches away, is the most gorgeous,
the landscape paradise -
and suddenly the meaty hand is gone.
Imagine.  Whatever inanity
filters through headache
or nausea
is the sublimest tender word; the feel
of frayed terrycloth,
infinitely soft.  You live,
in any part
that doesn't hurt, as Christ and Buddha suggested 
(but really there's no secret).


2

The guys who are doing the cleanup,
like the contractors, subcontractors and crews, seem
of the same homogenized stock
as the ones they are, uh, 
resettling: brown, squat, and noseless.
Natives don't see natives
from even the next village 
as natives, and certainly don't see natives
who appear in their village in uniform
to kill them as natives, 
and *those natives etc.  It's useful. 
The land and sky are clearing.
The woods and weeds, the lyric prairie grasses
return.  Salmon 
Coral invests new reefs of concrete and asphalt. 
Astonishing wildflowers
surge over bone-fertilized meadows.
These guys must know that when their jobs are finished
they are, but I guess as long as the union
exists, it will deal.  Still, who's 
in charge here?  Buildings 
replacing a few suburbs have
that thatch-roofed, fluted, narrow leaded windowed
Middle-Earth look 
Damn pointy-ears will creep in anywhere.


3

She was never the same
after Salinger in the Glass novels called
her God.  She ate and ate,
neared 300, said it was glandular.
It was.  A horror of glands, 
clottings and cloggings, vicious
synapses, a mind swift to evade  
The name of the mouth is life, but its meat is death.
She sat in Wendy's eating
three low-fat bran muffins,
her buried wrists delicate, 
her face unlined,
and reading a small square book,
brightly-colored, with extensive ornament 
around the few words on each page,
their substance peace and forgiveness.


4

I recite, after the padre
finishes with them.  
You'd think they'd resent the time,
but no: the easy, meditative at-ease,
the eyes neither fixed nor restless, reveal 
the warrior.
The Fifth Fighter Wing.  Aboard the *Wyoming.
Men of the Twelfth Division, and so on.
When they die, I consult with whatever officer
sends their effects home, and get to know them.
Am last ashore,
with the perk of walking between signs
that advertise minefields,
and heaps of metal I must get to know,
in moonlight and solitude to where
our flag flies over mosques,
and larger and larger mosques, and the great mosques,
over palaces and aqueducts
and onion domes, over Khartoum
and Ougadougou, over the Great Wall, mold-smelling
ruins, over Balmoral Castle, over
the vast disheartened middens of the East.
All these appear in my poems, which sell.  I greet
the President when I go home, then drive
prioritized streets to meet 
with my friends, who do not like me any more
though I like them and am thus pathetic
though not as pathetic as they, who await
a knock at the door.  I stare
expressively at nothing and compare
my situation to Drieu la Rochelle's
in 1940  but the obscure
reference and implied historicism
bring only the stiff mouths and white-showing eyes
of righteousness.  As in
that Nazi movie "Furlough on Parole," 
one prefers the company of soldiers,
and piles of corpses
who failed beneath the moon to take our positions.
Some of our boys and fierce girls doubt
but most, those nights, achieve
(though they have only my word for it) 
the true innocence.
Beyond taxes and oil, it is this
that preciously flows home to us.
Don't keep me from it, or it from me.  Bomb Baghdad.


5

The disastrous miscalculation
of the later Star Wars films
(two out to date) is not
that videogame geeks preempted plot,
or the Maxfield Parrish backdrops or leaden women,
but the drive towards the moment 
when the young Darth Vader
meets and helps the Emperor into power.
The Emperor is evil.   
They never met.
The Emperor was always there 
for Vader, Vader for him.  
To give people the idea
(insofar as entertainment
gives them ideas) of a meeting
is to suggest that evil
is not transcendent fact but a matter of choice, a 
motive.  And the results 
could be terrible, because the masses themselves
have motives.

Insofar as "choice" exists,
or "evil,"
you never, never know when you chose evil.


6

As his bullet enters his brain, Vladimir Vladimirovich
relaxes.  The Parisian smell
of Lili Brik, her intense though self-absorbed
gaze, and certain sounds
will follow him forever through the gas
and coal-dust of the afterlife,
which is a city much like Moscow; but 
for now he drifts through the decades.
Doesn't return to France
and her (and the rich, useless husband) 
but hangs like extra gloom
around Stalin.  Sees him write,
"Mayakovsky was the finest
poet we have yet produced.
Indifference to his memory and work is
a crime."  And sees the statue rise
on Mayakovsky Square, and whispers in
the Boss's ear, "I saved you the trouble
with my own Colt revolver, Georgian dog."
During the Purges, he meets
the souls of many friends emerging
blinking from the Lyubyanka or
from ghost-expresses from the East - 
waving champagne; there are years 
of champagne and kisses and reunion.
When the Germans come, he cries at last
the generous impotent tears
of the dead.  Postwar displacements
drop him in a drainage ditch
near Mecklenburg, aimlessly contemplating
(it happens).  T-51s
exploding through Fulda Gap
to begin World War III rouse him,
which creates enough of a vortex that
they don't.  Mayakovsky decides
to seek out a New World.  He likes
the buildings for a while, and Negroes, 
and jazz, but the absence of class consciousness
bugs him.  Into this void
the Poem rises, floating
free of author, meaning, syntax - it
is not very interesting but,
losing himself, he watches 
it and its investors
sneaking a fist up the anus of language.  Amused
and disgusted, thinking 
of home, wherever that is (by now
the towers of Moscow gleam 
with signs purveying perfume 
and diamonds to gangsters and whores), he
finds himself remembering
his youth: the yellow shirt
of Dadaist Cubofuturist
whatever, and his fancy
of leaping off a bridge into the Neva,
crying "DRINK VAN HOUTEN'S COCOA!!"
Perhaps a better end,
he thinks (somewhat diffusely)
than others: It was a dream.  They lived 
happily ever after.  Th-th-th-that's all, folks.

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