Thanks Frederick, I enjoyed them.
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From: Frederick Pollack <[log in to unmask]>
To: [log in to unmask]
Sent: Wed, 11 May 2005 21:12:11 -0400
Subject: a sort of snapshot
An Eye on the Time
Towards the end
he started trashing all his friends
in the small, the very small gossip-world
available to him. His friends, his
few friends grew fewer, infrequent,
the hours since they had left
longer, silent recriminations more
intense, until he had to tell
strangers about them, who also shunned him,
till eventually he had quite a crowd.
Jerry has patched things up with
his landlord, and will be allowed to stay
in the attic room with a hot-plate
a few more months. His kid, when she visits, plays
in the rest of the space, with trunks and old books
and several generations of toys.
But she’s on the verge
(he tells me) of puberty:
is already finding fault with him, and he has to
get it together – somehow
(somehow) get out from under
credit-card debt; make another stab
(despite Schwarzenegger’s cutbacks)
at collecting benefits
for the old injury; reinstate himself with
the union, which never liked him
and now barely exists; perhaps do some more
organizing … I want to avoid his
“organizing,” but the call’s on his dime
(he thinks he has unlimited minutes).
The voice still stunned about
the ex – well, a relationship
of thirty years … A hint, as always, not
of irony, but that irony might kick in
at any moment, but meanwhile, please …
The father still alive, money gone;
the annual phone-call from the brother …
He’s glad, when something sets him off
(something I say), to
new exculpations from the Soviet files;
what Schachtman said in ’40 and Ruether in ’50;
adventurism, cooptation among
the groupuscules; the surprising undeath of
I play with my computer as he talks
and worry that he’ll ask me for a loan.
He never does. When he moves on to
the Palestinians and my stand on them,
or to our various health problems, I
begin to talk about myself.
How I’m trying to revive
the humanistic “portrait” style
I was working in three years ago
and encountering the same problems:
details defeat universality,
seems somehow a betrayal, and
the whole approach is passé. How an
ugliness has settled over my work
which even I am hard-pressed to interpret
as beauty. He listens
as if to murmurs from a brighter world
and when, awkwardly as always,
we cut it off (I cut it off),
he says, We have to struggle.
I sit for some time, thinking,
imagining that I had said
What “struggle,” Jerry?
There is no struggle.
Our mothers had kept in touch,
and when I returned for a week
in ’79, I called her
from a pay phone in the old neighborhood.
Where Jews had been, Puerto Ricans were,
but it was Chicago: the frame remains –
three-story sooty brick –
although what fills it changes.
above which I cried:
“The last time I saw you, you wanted to be
a veterinarian and a ballet dancer.”
She laughed, husky contralto
unchanged in sixteen years:
“I was always running across campus.”
“How did you resolve it?” “Oh, there was only
one way to resolve it – I became an actress.
Now I’m one of eight hundred unemployed actresses
running around Chicago.”
Her biggest role, she said, had been
as a gypsy in an ad
for the Illinois State Lottery.
The gypsy wins, and buys an ermine coat.
“The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do
was to take that coat off.”
She mentioned a husband, and an old kitschy thought
died. I went up to see them.
He was doing well
at something; had been, I learned,
that close to taking his vows
as a Jesuit
when they met; was now a member in good standing
of a Conservative synagogue.
And he looked a bit like me
(more stolid, Polish),
which made me absurdly, not merely generously happy;
as did the fact of her undiminished,
gypsy beauty, the long neck
and secret grin.
Though all I remember him saying,
as we looked down at the Lake
and I made the usual comparison
to the ocean, is that he preferred this.
Philip’s mother, meanwhile, has died,
and the house he had repaired for her is his.
He should be trying to sell it,
but the energy that sustained him
and her those last years
has gone. Though he keeps everything tidy.
At night from his bedroom window
he gazes out at miles of identical houses.
He dates, but when he tells them how
he sort of values his privacy, they drop him.
Work is good; he stays till seven, seven-thirty,
and is trying to cut back on smoking and even television.
In the car and sometimes at home he listens
to music that offers complete fulfillment
of joy or violence in three minutes
without equivocation or delay.
How long can I do this.
He doesn’t particularly like to read.
The vague sense of unbelonging
he shares with his most apparently gung-ho,
straight-arrow co-workers won’t make
him meaningful, or give him a critical viewpoint.
And I care no more for postmodernism,
the snide interrupting speaker, than he would.
When I began writing narrative poetry,
I saw in it a haven
for characters incapable of plot –
an affirmative-action program for epiphanies.
But they don’t cooperate.
He stands by the window, walks into the yard,
takes a drink, sees what’s on,
hurts no one, or only in the usual ways;
and if I try to prod him into thought
he resists passively, demanding all
the rights accruing to a character – respect,
love. You’re supposed to love them.
It will all end in tears, mine.
Religion will get him.
Some people only change or learn by force.
disgusted yet patient,
he bulges an inappropriate uniform –
its wide black buttons popping –
and from the cockpit of his rusting spacecraft
as he comes at last to report.
So many years out of contact
have made his tone waspish,
without camaraderie or deference; but
at least we need no longer speak
through a hollow cardboard cylinder
beneath a card-table, now rotting
somewhere in the landfills of nostalgia.
“Forget them,” he squeaks. “They won’t help.”
“I know,” I say, but he plunges
on as if still exploring:
“I found nothing, not even ruins.
The ontological reasoning
by which you fed and kept me at a distance –
my only fuel – applies
as much to them as to God.
Yet I still think they exist,
the alien intelligences,
that they are, in fact, pervasive:
Like the vast bulk of the universe,
the dark energy. The dark matter.”
is Howard, who read
at parties across the Peninsula –
even at those on the fringe of our group
(itself the outermost fringe),
attending uninvited and
ignored by normals saying normal things?
He explained every poem –
its learned allusions, its fine points –
interrupting himself to interpret –
and seemed to expect applause;
which he never received
except from his girlfriend, who
was marginally less nearsighted and chubby.
The story about him was
(it never appeared in his poems)
that his father had been fired
for no cause after twenty years, and –
unused to these efficiencies
(not then the norm) – had
left his office building,
sat on a bench at a curb,
and died. He sat a long time,
tie knotted, jacket neat,
and appeared to be dozing
or mulling a late move to the public sector.
It’s time to open the thing up.
For a crowd scene, daylight, the year’s first heat.
People park their cars and stroll
along the canal, through the woods,
picnicking, experiencing, wondering
how I will judge them, how I will ruin the day,
but the cloud passes.
It’s about time for a symbol:
a Scoured Bedrock Terrace Island
offshore, reached by causeway,
with one careful path.
Like a heap of granite books, some spines still upright,
flotsam soil between,
seeds dropped (from everywhere) by birds,
small growth, struggle.
Then the river, the distant bank with more people,
the expected attempt to be more than self or life,
extending to the height of the circling hawks.
It may be time to bring You in,
abruptly, as poems do
towards the end, to show the preceding wasn’t serious –
heroic, sure, an attempt at confrontation,
foredoomed, and now we’ll go home. An implicit call
at once to be admired, envied and pitied, the
quintessential bourgeois gesture. But you’re working.
I keep approaching the edge of a thought,
but the “I,” which I decided
I wouldn’t be afraid of, cheapens it;
the symbolic structures I back myself into
pull it back, and the convention
that poetry doesn’t exactly think.
You said once poetry was my way
of making friends, however indifferent or
distant, and that mentioning it
was OK as long as I
didn’t put it or me on a pedestal –
pretending, at least,
that it’s only a form of labor among others.
They head back to their cars
or seek free space to fly
kites, or gaze at the water; mostly
liberal, here, some overweight,
like me, sunk in the past,
enduring, i.e. enjoying, the slow play,
trying to avoid essentially
the same topics I am. Time for a hero.
Obvious on reflection that
noble haunted ruins can’t
represent false hopes;
only a construction site,
avoided even by weeds.