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Frederick Pollack



In those days I never liked

where I’d been or was going.

Life had the texture of my face.

Now, the memories are beginning–

no, how can I put this–

I’m beginning to leave

the memories. What’s left

is the mere consciousness of having

been conscious, as in some dreary

second-semester philosophy course.

There was a layover,

I forget where. There was a cheeseburger;

food on the plane had been airplane food.

A napkin in my collar.

A careful leaning forward.

(Why didn’t I take off the jacket?)

My grip was no doubt full of tubes and knives.

Aloft, when the light went out, I smoked.

It was important to me

to smoke. As much as to read–

imposing titles neatly half-revealed.

When the stewardess came by

with her pillbox hat and space-station-blue

uniform, I forget whether

I flirted with her

or tried with my brown eyes to evoke

a faint awareness that I was in hell.

(Was there a difference?)


Self-conscious to the point of exhibitionism.

Flying, a pause between two minor hells.


I separate from him, though I mourn the hair,

even the crew-cut. There must be

some abstract principle where he

could be subsumed, find peace,

and which I’m just the man

to posit. What adolescents need,

almost as much as to get laid,

is dignity. Which can’t come from within,

because it’s never named or even imagined.

It can only be conferred

from outside, but under most conditions probably

isn’t, and anyway we’re landing.





Their transitory postures barely

please or perturb. An old woman

crying neatly and briefly, lovers’

curtailed convulsive kiss,

a beggar performing a scene from his death;

the harlequinades of police, who don’t bother

to look serious here

where only they are serious–even

the mountains and fussing gulls

underplay so well there’s no play.


Surely triumphant capital, which filled

the gaps between houses, the cavities left

in plaster by ancient bullets

(when there’s decay now, all decays),

must lend and jealously guard

continuity. But behind

each unsought counter salesmen flick

their beads and, in a manner of speaking,

dream; or loudly beg

salvation, explanations from their mobiles.


The theme of tourism suffers where all,

even those who never leave,

are tourists. But that’s how

I like it. The container ships

on the horizon vanish more

at every glance. The widow dabs

her eyes and smiles with measured pessimism.

The past is ziggurats of herring,

old men and jobless young who choke

on their God, Who is great, and smoke.


They may decide I’m responsible

for death, and kill me. May expel me

like the Roma, in the name of purity.

A wave over the embankment

may steal this letter-paper I prefer

to email because it’s matter.

Which is more ephemeral,

really? is a question as delightful

as the breeze that will last us

hopefully to the bottom of this page.





We keep our lodgings scrupulously clean

though plastic yellows, fabrics wear,

mold grows back. We cook

as well as we can, as well as the food allows,

and feed each other. There’s often

an awkward silence before we eat

at the end of difficult days.

It occasions discussions

of words and emotions

like “grace,” “gratitude,” “prayer,” even

“the oceanic sense”–

which are fine, we agree, as long as one frees them

from syntax. No one necessarily

bestows “grace,” and one needn’t

feel grateful to anyone.

“Transcendence” is merely that;

it goes nowhere.–

Nothing emerges from these talks;

but at least there’s no shouting,

no interruption or rhetoric,

and that’s something.


We scarcely remember what she looked like.

And the one who came

for her becomes so stylized

he might even have been one

of us. It doesn’t matter,

as I walk after dinner

through mud, then up to my cot.

What matters is

her happiness, which also seems rather abstract:

raven curls against blue

candy sky ... So I try more profoundly

to grasp what her happiness meant

to her. But isn’t happiness happiness,

an absolute, like water,

indifferent to its container?

Then one of the inevitable rats

in the corner chides: These reflections

are sentimental, the emotions very much borrowed.

And to my confusion

I share the rat’s equivocal little voice.




When Rabbi Löwy struck

the Aleph from among

the letters on the Golem’s brow, changing

EMET (“eternal”) to MET (“death”),

the creature toppled, and was carried

to an empty room atop

the synagogue. On the street,

people the thing had killed,

Gentiles and Jews, were also taken away

and survivors stared at the Rabbi.

“Our beloved Emperor,” he said,

“has rescinded his edict

against the Jews of Prague.

The abomination fulfilled

its purpose. But at such cost!

I should have known it would be

unmanageable, unable

to tell friend from foe, or foe from neutral,

its clay hand raised against all others.

When rain has removed this blood,

I shall be left with guilt

and you with a myth,

ambiguous like any myth,

and as small compared to the Law.”

Perhaps because of these words,

though in every pogrom

of the following centuries Jews

looked to that window

which may have marked its room,

the Golem never reappeared.

It’s said that an SS lieutenant

took a knife to stab it

and was never seen again, but that story

may be apocryphal.

Over time, even the moisture

recalling spirit in the Golem’s clay

dried, and the creature

became friable, smaller.

Yet a strange potency remained.

It may have been the talk of freedom

that stirred it in ‘89,

although several more years

passed in a sort of pain.

Until, in a new hotel

as streamlined as a submarine,

full of fresh-faced, madly ambitious

and incompetent staff, a woman

from the IMF lost it, shrieking, “What do you mean

you can’t get a connection to

New York? I have been waiting


I can’t do business under these conditions!”

Then suddenly her scream

changed as she saw,

on a street still called Leninova,

the Golem halting new BMWs,

and the last Tatras and Skodas, visibly

flaking like itself. How had it crossed

town? In darkness probably,

beside walls its own color. But now

it had stopped

in the sun. It was confused

by the sun, and a lack of instructions,

but also by the beings, people,

staring. The terrible need to do battle

remained, but what it saw

was neither friends nor enemies nor neutrals,

only things like itself, warring mud,

with neither “death” nor “deathless” on their brows.

So without a word (it had no mouth),

the Golem ran into a wall

that had belonged to the secret police

and would soon house a Swiss bank,

forming a somewhat turtle-shaped

bulge in the stucco. It isn’t

part of the normal Prague tour,

or touted in guidebooks beside

the craze for monster trucks and Kafkaburgers.




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