There’s no point in criticizing
the art. Which gives it a kind of power.
The paintings are all about faith
in landscape, the peace and grace
of pastels. The photos also
believe in good old things, Positano,
rowboats, surfer sunsets.
They are tended by relaxed figures
who may be nephews and nieces paid
a few bucks to watch the store, or the artists themselves.
Beyond them my wife
and other women chat and finger dresses,
“safari”-patterned, hardly there,
which would fit none of them. Which would fit
at variously-colored and –scented
soaps. On their half-wrappings, kneeling, nude
silhouettes of afro’d men and women
embrace. “My wife and I make them,”
smiles the big proprietor. “It isn’t a hobby.
We’re among the last holdouts
in this neighborhood; we make it ‘mixed.’
Like a ruined church or flat
with good bones that gets new paint and windows
and floors and plumbing. A tradition
that becomes someone else’s tradition.
The way the different foods you smell
merge, and the cute park
you passed on the way in,
before the costume jewelry,
is a memorial, an elegy
to the dust and kids that used to lie there.
The grass is new, but you can’t dig out all the needles.
– Try this one.” He holds up
an entirely black bar. “It’ll turn you black.”
I return the smile; he’s younger
than I’d thought, younger than I.
“At this point in my life,” I say,
“it wouldn’t make that much difference.”
Then I collect my wife and we push through the crowd,
which is thicker than ever.
We’re parked halfway to the moon.
It was well known to youth when I was young
that the white-box apartments we lived in
were likelier haunted
than creaking mansions only seen in films.
Despite the ardent nature of our cohort
and era, more renowned than real, we sustained
a certain morbidity. So that when someone
we thought was in Nepal or Canada
briefly appeared, distracted, in a beanbag,
or one we knew lost
to misadventure, drugs, or friendly fire,
over our shoulder in a mirror, we weren’t surprised.
For those glitter-spackled ceilings – weren’t they
the color of heaven? Those views
of identical rentals an invitation
to metaphysics? Those extorted, equalized
by such rooms were reluctant to leave them
in death, yet could easily
exchange one for another. So in certain lights,
not only at twilight, a stranger
might strum a weak Doors cover
from a corner, a couple make love
where their bed had been, an infinitely loved
illicit hidden cat meow for treats.
Enthusiasms no one shares
are like old junk one calls antique,
remainders, curses one pretends are blessings,
jokes that become lectures.
I try to interest them at least
in Finzi’s “Eclogue” or some Brahms,
but music doesn’t mean that to them;
at most they say it’s nice.
One thinks bathetically how, once or twice,
Stalin showed disdainful mercy: said
of Pasternak, “Don’t bother the cloud-grazer”;
and when Zamyatin wrote,
“You may as well shoot me
because I can’t work here,” laughed –
“He has balls!” – and let him die
alone and broke in Paris.
Zamyatin who in ‘27
imagined a future revolution
in a world of uniformity and glass.
As the revolt fails, the hero
madly asks a physicist,
“There, where your finite universe ends –
what’s there? what’s there?”
And gets no answer as they come for him.
About Fred Pollack
Fred Pollack is the author of two book-length narrative poems, The Adventure and Happiness, both published by Story Line Press. He has a collection of poems, A POVERTY OF WORDS, forthcoming from Prolific Press. He has had many poems appear in print and online journals. He is an adjunct professor of creative writing at George Washington University. Poetics: neither navel-gazing mainstream nor academic pseudo-avant-garde.