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Re: a sort of snapshot


Peter Ciccariello <[log in to unmask]>


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


Wed, 11 May 2005 22:12:28 -0400





text/plain (593 lines)

Thanks Frederick, I enjoyed them.
-Peter C.
ARTIST'S BLOG - http://invisiblenotes.blogspot.com/
PHOTOGRAPHS - http://uncommonvision.blogspot.com/
-----Original Message-----
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

the I.W.W.

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,

“universality” itself

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.

Ambulances, salsa,

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.




Indistinct, furry,

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: 

they’re cliché.

Like the vast bulk of the universe,

the dark energy.  The dark matter.”




Where, likewise,

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,

engagement, but

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,

bankrupt, unfinished,

avoided even by weeds. 


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