Author of two book-length narrative poems, THE ADVENTURE and HAPPINESS, both published by Story Line Press. Other poems in print and online journals. Adjunct professor creative writing George Washington University.
I am condemned to interview my nightmares;
to maintain a correct, mildly supplicant pose
as long as the tape is running.
By now I should myself be interviewed,
throwing out misdirections, obiter dicta,
apothegms, charm. Being solid, meaning something,
which I could then evade, deny, and mock.
My only consolation is that while
I ask the questions I am safe from the answers,
enjoying a privileged, tourist status
in a world of contempt I subtly enfold in my own.
As now, beneath an awning
on a street of awnings and tables,
where diminutive cars jockey
around an enormous fountain with gods and nymphs,
and the driver of a scooter leans and snags
a purse from a shoulder, then speeds professionally off,
and the waiter sets down my subject’s
Pernod and Pellegrino and, more sloppily, mine.
Immaculate and formal in this heat,
unable to choose among
the venom, condescension, and detachment
my interviewees adopt, Signor B.
employs the third of these, describing
his bombing of a train station in the Seventies;
the second when, inevitably,
I ask about innocent lives. “No one is innocent,”
he says. “The point of terror
is that it proclaims a new Law, even a new calendar.
People will live henceforth by its demands
or join those who were killed as an example.”
He admits to a certain ambivalence
about suicide bombers. “On the one hand,
courage, of course, commitment;
on the other, they are after all – ”
(he grins affably) “Semites.
Hysterics. Some of my friends
have found in Islam a spiritual home
and political point d’appui; I resist this option.”
“The virgins don’t attract you,” I say. He shrugs:
“Narcissism … a typical
(if I may say so) confusion
of private and collective salvation.
The new world is not merely built
upon the ruins of the old, it is those ruins,
which those who made should rule. My own
few years in prison were an inconvenience,
not a martyrdom.”
I ask what his guiding principle
and that of his like-minded friends is now.
He reminisces about the Master,
whose name he will not allow me to use;
to whom he was privileged to listen,
as a young man, in the shadow of heavy drapes,
among the Tantric charts and the sculptures of gods.
Who spoke of the beauty and focus,
the seriousness (“so unlike us”) of the SS.
And of that one Tradition,
that Knowledge of a higher realm
no single creed has fully grasped but which,
when the Jewish god and his epigones
are deposed, will again bring
the gifts of caste and of obedience.
“Democracy,” he says, “which … people like you
believe is a motor, is only wheels and seats;
the motor, such as it was, is running down.”
But by now he is too, an old man
fanning himself, satisfied
to sit and sip, and talk, even to me;
wondering to some slight extent, perhaps,
what lies behind my impassive gaze. We turn
to art. He seems surprised
that I know his Master, Evola
(I say the name), began as a Dadaist
painter. “He renounced that decadence.
Of course,” he adds, “you won’t accept that term.”
I say, “I think the visual arts
can do as they like. I’m more concerned
Which loses, I think, when it assumes
that words are just a picture, not a window.”
“Upon the Ideal,” he nods.
“On whatever arc of history,”
I say, turning off the tape,
“we can perceive through it.”
He smiles and, to my outrage, quotes:
“Whatever can be believed is an image of truth.”
This was the second sighting.
The first was in spring,
in the brush at the edge
of the woods, which is also
the edge of our lawn.
I was out, bleary,
with coffee, and he was there. -
is not fear: it leaves time
for a considered stare
that changed to an alarming yawn.
The neighbor's dachshund yapped, and he was gone.
Today the leaves remaining up
looked deader than those fallen.
In the hills over the river,
cars are visible again -
those two lanes, their self-canceling motion.
He in the same spot,
his coat the color of the finest leaf.
His range must consist of
a few square kilometers
bounded by roads, the bike path, the river, houses.
Somewhere he brings down
a snake, or one of the moles that destroy
our gardens. Bears the meat in his jaws
to his mate and pup
in a hole downslope,
and they greet his return with joy.
This stretch of pavement
is seldom walked.
Shadow of the tower
across the street.
No parking. Driveway
of a minor bank,
of an old brick fourplex;
and an untended tree,
thin knotted branches down
to the curb. One enters,
bowed, a tunnel
where light and stride
Sparse runty leaves,
a soot- and earth-
grimed sap deepen
on the sidewalk. Rarely,
a fruit: dark plum and pit,
inedible no doubt.
Even a place so void
brings something forth.
Half-Asian. At the crosswalk,
small lips tighten,
a hand makes
a cell-phone-flipping gesture
(but was there a phone?).
In this assaultive heat
and light (why no shades?),
the sweep of her chest
shines, the low dark blouse
inevitably soaking. Quickly,
whatever annoyance it was
leaves her neck, and her eyes;
in which, well-invested somewhere,
Perhaps at incidental,
brief, hopefully not unpleasant
experiences, like that
of the man looking.
What it means, the ruin
occluded by low trees,
is a desire to be left alone.
The trees, airless and dense,
a growth in darkness carried out
under cover of day.
That path, which no one ever walked,
is mystery; the prevailing tone –
last green before brown –
has unilaterally declared itself
M A L L M O N U M E N T S
World War II
Descending among thousands from
hundreds of buses, he has
it together enough not
to stumble. Meds
have also steadied
his sight and stilled his trembling jowls,
but not that unaccountable cold thing
still chasing back and forth
(as once in battle, then in offices)
while Taps is played, and he
and other former soldiers weep and sing.
What does it remind him of
at last? A rat
a buddy on Peleliu kept as a pet.
He reads the inscriptions, the sort
of statements officials mean
to be engraved in stone; now they
have been. His strange
familiar, having scraped
its fur against the monolith marked
ATLANTIC, hurls itself
at the other. The President (whom
this vet supposes he admires) speaks.
– One night a Jap mortar
did for his buddy and the rat escaped.
As you approach from the northwest,
one gestures caution, thereby welcoming
you to the patrol. The scrub
through which he and the others walk
abstracts itself in alternating rows
to granite. Black
in the rain that, most days,
though you know it’s cold and solid, you can’t feel.
He isn’t looking at you
exactly; he’s eight feet tall
(though bent beneath his rifle, poncho, pack),
as if men’s bones engorged themselves in fear
and weariness blanched everything they bear.
Few of them look at each other –
the radioman, the BAR
man – but the squad is a man
(accompanied by other ghosts than you),
not freedom, which is not free, but what is his.
Perhaps now he can stand and look
at a wall, not sit
against one as he did for twenty years
in his own stink,
insulting every passerby
for being clearly neither friend nor gook.
And stare until the names become
his faint reflection;
the letters, flowers, photos, teddy-bears
left daily in the holy gutter –
warehouses full of them –
gifts to and from him.
Then try, like other missing souls,
to join the bronze three-man patrol,
or kneel by the nurses –
one cradling a head he knew,
one gazing upward for a helicopter.
everywhere in the universe is statues.
(Not all of them; God knows
how many are to beings who made,
not freed, slaves.) They act
in other ways than those who build them:
slower. Talk among themselves;
translate and criticize each other’s prose,
if any. – Helpful
to have it in the corner of your gaze,
as here. Somebody many galaxies
away is praising
both Gettysburg and the Second Inaugural:
“Nice how you structure it in layers.
‘First we were here,
then did this, then discovered that;
now we must learn.’ Both Law and Story.”
With his familiar
amused and melancholy turn
of thought, our man says,
“They came together for me in that part
about ‘the blood drawn by the lash
paid by the sword’ … and are still yoked, I gather.”
At which, unnoticed by those marble eyes,
reaches them from our meager sun.
The Reflecting Pool
Late tourists wonder whether they
approach their car or drift away;
or weigh one sight and trinket more
against being tagged and towed at four.
The frisbees and the kites descend.
A lawyer ponders, presses Send,
shuts his laptop, leaves the bench,
while schizophrenic fingers clench
their shopping cart and police appear
to get that garbage out of here.
Somebody’s limo passes; soon
this pool will only mirror the moon.
Carefully tended and reseeded,
the greensward remains piebald, kneaded
too deeply by the feet of those
who massed this year, e.g., to close
abortion clinics – mimicking
the rhetoric of Dr. King.
Which, though it still has power to move,
cannot be said thereby to prove
the universe has a moral arc
or bends towards anything but dark.
©2014 Frederick Pollack