Poem by Frederick Pollack


The guide must have worked here
before the war, before the first war,
before the French Revolution,
modifying his script to suit regimes
and brushing his teeth once a decade.
The hangings he explicates
are vivid, though their only colors
are pink commemorating red,
dispirited blue, bankrupt gold.
The knights, pretty pages,
and ladies like high-waisted flower-stalks,
proceeding into castles barely
taller than themselves, seem confident
that ritual is action, impassivity courage.
All any of it means is the coat of arms
topping each image like a nailhead.
After this, I swear, no more culture.
The past can only ask so much of one.
One should be grateful that the guide ignores
some rags, their tones reduced to single threads,
that appear to have gone through a carwash.
Those appeal, however. Truth and beauty
are after all ambiguous and fragmentary.
One seems, if I can make it out, to deal
with something besides simpering
and status: the rear view of a chubby man
facing a doctor coming through a door.
A classroom, children drawn
like little unpleasant adults. A mandala
like that which hovers over Rembrandt’s Faust,
but endlessly, absurdly more complex.
If there’s a castle it was worn away.
I catch the guide’s eye,
which is colorless and bleary and
shows feelings ineffective yet distinct
from weary habit as he leads us out.

Frederick Pollack is the author of two book-length narrative poems, THE ADVENTURE and HAPPINESS, both published by Story Line Press. A collection of shorter poems, A POVERTY OF WORDS, 2015 from Prolific Press. His poems have appeared in Hudson Review, Salmagundi, Poetry Salzburg Review, Die Gazette (Munich), The Fish Anthology (Ireland), Representations, Magma (UK), Iota (UK), Bateau, Main Street Rag, Fulcrum, etc.  Online, poems have appeared in Big Bridge, Hamilton Stone Review, Diagram, BlazeVox, The New Hampshire  Review, Mudlark, Occupoetry, Faircloth Review, Triggerfish, Thunderdome. He is adjunct professor of creative writing at George Washington University.