DREAMS OF NOTHING — Frederick Pollack

1

The rent is paid, which has the status
of a miracle, self-wrought, his alone;
or an escape, however brief.
He draws the shades, so that in time
he will imagine a day
cleaner than those in time,
and sits feigning peace until he feels it.
Then paces. Each rigorous step
redeems something, carefully thought,
comprehensively mourned,
till hurt can be no longer itemized;
and only featureless pity
is left to go where needed,
hope without content
to join the hoard already made.
A thumb, two fingers at right angles
mean that he grieves for everything in space.
Two palms extended
signify the Friend he seeks to be.
Pointless to mention the squalor,
the closeness of the air:
they are a token of their opposites.
Or the extraneous judgments
that, toward nightfall,
accumulate like street noise, like
clouds, like
cramp in the hours hunched beside a wall.

 

2

A sphere arrives. Its genteel form
manifests intellect, the fact
of deceleration power.
These things combined
could cause panic. But say
They don’t want to cause panic
or other idle talk; are hardly a “they”
or thing, but a focused slice of space
nuzzling our orbit like a cat.
Their former chitin, limbs, or feelers
long subsumed in thought,
with perhaps a nostalgia for bodies
and evolution like a misspent youth,
they transmit waves of tentative, so tentative
love. They only want to locate,
and do, good. Reason for them
is warmth. They are as tactful as gravitons.
But now they turn and flee faster than light,
sensing religion.

 

3

In the mid-1930s, a Futurist –
aging, no longer mad
for “the slap, the box on the ear,
the speeding motorcar more beautiful
than the Venus de Milo!” (Marinetti),
or, at least personally, for war –
sculpted plants. From tin,
enameled fuchsia, azure, aqua,
crimson, violet, gold and white.
Spiky, some bordered, striped, they stood or hung.
They were neat. They looked
like stylish microorganisms grown
imperial. I raffinati, if not
the bel mondo, all wanted one.
After several shows and the Biennale,
they went into museums. The sculptor
had long surrendered
his youthful faith that the museums should be bombed.
Pondering his heroic garden,
but disconsolately passing
Sironi’s reliefs of peasants, soldiers, mothers
(he should have had that job!), he followed
crowds to a plaza
where Mussolini was endorsing
Romanness. Though he joined the chants and cheers,
the sculptor savored
the texture of the crowd (like a three-day beard)
set off by banners and the black
of priests and party, the Duce
like a jerking muscle, faces
gleaming as they rose to watch
a flyover of Breda fighter-bombers.

 

4

Sometimes the supreme imaginative object
for me is a critic, posed against
an indeterminate bleak background
like a conference room at Area 51.
Who stares at me in horror
or mild disdain. I’ve never quite grasped
our grounds of dispute – my indifference
to sunsets, rural life, traditional form, simple
sensuous diction, pop lyrics, sports,
the oppressiveness
of syntax, the importance
of Derrida, Spicer, childhood, graceful en-
jambment, the endless pathos of parents, the theme
of love, the need to avoid
allusions to academic controversies, the vital
insights of “other” sexualities and The Other
generally, the impossibility of confrontations
like this. I’m not even sure
of the other’s gender – it may be Helen
Vendler or Marjorie Perloff (see footnotes),
though I doubt either would be caught
dead in that dress. As always I
respond by yelling IT’S ALL ROCK AND ROLL
and as always realize too late
that what I yelled was an aporia:
was it praise of, a claim on, certain subject-matter,
or rejection of it? Meanwhile the figure before me
is losing shape, in response to my rage or
its own or sneakily to remind me
that a poet’s job is universal empathy
and identification. I almost soften, reach out; then think
that people in the humanities
deserve no mercy anyway. And look
past him or her to what I can see,
beyond the conference room,
of a field of flying saucers crashed at various times
since Roswell, and yearn to get out there –
though whether to repair one and go home
or weep in the shade of its exotic metal,
I don’t know. In either case, despite
my leftist sympathies, I’m about
to pull a John Galt (see footnotes)
and tell the swine to get out of my way.

 

5

The recent death of a girl
I lived with forty years ago
is revealed by an idle Google-search.
Unspecified illness. Two years younger. –
One must distinguish
emotions that can be named and are felt
from those that are named (with a dying fall,
say, beige bravery, mauve irony)
but not felt, and those that can’t be named
or aren’t felt. The names and feelings
coexist like elements of a rainy day
in spring on a rainy day
in fall, or like those of life,
on Mars. My shrink, who is some years older,
is in the hospital; his wife had to call
to cancel. He is also between
the era when bourgeois Americans
casually and hopefully
admitted to having shrinks and now,
when once again they don’t.
Several people I barely knew
died lately. It is of you
the rumor is told, the one that draws nearer and nearer.
We had no idea of a future
when we were together.
According to the Internet,
she did some worthwhile humanitarian work
later.

 

6

The window of a toy store. The old man
was surprised kids still touched
things besides screens and keyboards.
Among the ranks of dolls, like an impossibly packed
choir, was one with one huge eye,
red in green plush, and fangs
on each side of a wide embroidered grin.
It seemed a friend. He remembered
the dolls of childhood boys abandon soon
and won’t admit to owning. His –
several – had been
a squadron, headquarters a card-table,
a bear his Number One. They had devastated
hostile planets and fleets with earnest
professional banter and the crude
technology of the times.
Now he imagined what he could have done
with the kindly monster in the window,
an alien come over to our side.
To combat bathos he summoned
a painting, John Hrehov’s “Collector” – an effete
hard-eyed young man in an expensive suit,
about to move or crush
a row of figurines
(an astronaut, the Creature from the Black
Lagoon, a soldier, a mummy)
on a rich surface in the coldest light.
And the doll said: If you think he
or anything is God, you’re lost.
The manipulator
is also on the table, and no taller than you.

 

7

And he went on, or I did; or the dude
in section 1 went crazier,
and started hearing things
or saying them. But because he was saying them –
i.e., aloud – he no longer made
grandiose claims
for himself. A kind of blob
or area of space (he said)
is drawing closer. Not to Earth per se,
just the general area. But from even
a moderate distance, it appears to be
next door, on top of us, us.
It lends a shadow to the lover’s face,
the kind of shadow you both fear and seek
when a woman stares from her thoughts and doesn’t speak
or a man stops excusing and explaining.
It amplifies each trace of DNA
that has long lain unpunished or unredressed
in streets and alleys, darker yet
intolerably bright in the new darkness.
It has no name that can be grasped
by those who love and study it, or those
well-paid to obfuscate it, whom
it will inevitably eat. It dreams all things;
will, turning in sleep, transpose
what will be with what never was.

***
Frederick Pollack is the author of two book-length narrative poems, The Adventure and Happiness, both published by Story Line Press. His collection of poems, A Poverty of Words, is forthcoming from Prolific Press. Other poems appear in print and online journals. He is an adjunct professor creative writing at George Washington University.