Sometimes they discuss punishment
for the guards and the thing behind the guards.
But that’s too painful – it stirs
what little blood they have left,
and talk shifts in the direction
of silence, madness, memories.
Or worse, someone raises his voice
and voices must never be raised:
survival is a whisper in the night.
So they whisper instead about redemption,
and the one they call the Teacher
says that it isn’t one good event
after a series of bad events
but an intervention in each of those:
each abuse, beating, insult,
and each of one’s own errors
is interrupted – a mightier hand
restrains the fist, a voice
immediate and unarguable
reveals the lie. So that life
remains what it was, even unto death,
but better lives begin at every moment
and fill a cosmos that has room for them.
The turning searchlight floods the room;
the prisoners scarcely blink. “Is redemption, then – ”
one whispers, fighting a cough,
“is the redeemed self one or many?”
“One,” says the Teacher, almost speaking.
“It’s hard to visualize.” “But what’s the point
of redemption, then, if life must
be suffered to the end?” “We look back on it,”
says someone else. “From another perspective.”
“When?” asks the second.
“Tomorrow, after they kill us?”
The Teacher makes a bony gesture:
“You will look down on it. Now.
Without distress. It will be a touchstone,
an indispensable example. In a now
that’s like a stone a sculptor abandoned
but then picks up and perfects. You don’t
look back from after – there is no ‘after,’
as those outside pretend.”
I often wish that English were like German:
the verb at the end a formality;
the capital that makes a Thing
of any noun, while vaster subtler things
are made by piling on.
So that all sorts of guilt and hate,
ambivalence and anguish may,
in the bricks themselves, beneath the ivy,
pullulate; I’m thinking mainly of Celan.
Or French. The object solitary, bare,
polished. Bring two rocks together
on a table connotationless as they
and watch them change: become as sexy
as porphyry, elusive as mica;
embrace, almost ascend, while still alone.
It’s hard to express how much I envy
Bonnefoy, who could write twenty
poems in a row called “Stone.”
But I’m stuck in this “sound bourgeois piano,”
someone called it, among languages;
where the sentence races on, kicking
or picking up things you’ve no time
to inspect but which, radioactive
in pocket or purse, define
whatever world the words are driving to,
the tune approaching climax,
the notes decaying behind you.
Frederick Pollack is the author of two book-length narrative poems, The Adventure and Happiness, both Story Line Press; the former reissued 2022 by Red Hen Press. Three collections of shorter poems, A Povert of Words, (Prolific Press, 2015), Landscape with Mutant, Smokestack Books, UK, 2018), and The Beautiful Losses, (Better Than Starbucks Books, forthcoming 2023). Pollack has appeared in Salmagundi, Poetry Salzburg Review, The Fish Anthology (Ireland), Magma (UK), Bateau, Fulcrum, Chiron Review, Chicago Quarterly Review, etc. Online, poems have appeared in Big Bridge, Hamilton Stone Review, BlazeVox, The New Hampshire Review, Mudlark, Rat’s Ass Review, Faircloth Review, Triggerfish, etc.