Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Two Poems from Frederick Pollack

To The Lighthouse
I have had my vision.
              -- Virginia Woolf
When you go to meet your secular guru
you will face a trendy problem: whether he
in fact inhabits a lighthouse in the skerries
or a squalid room ashore.
And since the point has been raised, he must
(in some sense other than that of “fact”) do both,
and the questions you must answer –
we can assume they “are” the voyage – are compounded:
whether you will find him.
Whether he wants to be found.
Whether the effort will bring joy or more sorrow.
In another paradigm
it is you who live in that freezing flat,
merely gazing toward the lighthouse
or, lacking a view, not even that:
merely cringing at a foghorn
you alone, on the far side of television or traffic noise,
hear – marking the intervals
of a disease that is its own cure,
like drinking solo.
Drugging, banqueting solo.
But let’s assume everything’s OK
and that you’re you and that he (the hero)
is he, and that he
is on his island.  How bright the gulls in the morning!
How fresh the breeze over the boat
as you set out – with, in your backpack,
an entire oeuvre to be signed, and free,
briefly, of status issues:
does he work the light or own it?
Whoever seeks me out?
Why should they?
And when you arrive and are met
he is everything you hoped – bluff, Hemingwegian,
but totally original and unaffected.  And you
are everything he hoped …
He holds nothing back,
and it is as if – under that sky, with the surrounding waves
applauding – the final mystery of culture
is revealed to you and your era:
sublime failure.
Radical occultism.
He talks on and on, brilliantly, till you feel
(as he might) that the quotidian
disaster you represent has been slighted
in favor of the ideal.
Or the reverse.  You walk round and round
the lighthouse and its cottage, never quite
getting inside, and envy him
the woman you glimpse:
an archaic beauty.
Warm biscuits.  Cleanliness.  Order.
A look of steel.
Till the gilded fortresses of dialectic dissolve
in a desert of bromides.  We must keep
the earth.  (A gesture
at the gulls).  We must retain faith
in man.  But where you –
where you you you I I I I or even he
fit into “man” remains, as always, unclear, and
a dark cloud (as of loneliness or astringency) informs you
it’s time to leave.
You thank the guru.
You rise from his comfortable chair with new resolve.
What you want to hear you must write.
What you want to see you must paint.
At least your friends will value it,
who are as numerous as the stars, though as hard to reach.
What secret plea you make for vindication
or solace sends a wave into curved space;
it will return at the end of time
as vindication or solace.
This knowledge is earned by the truly hopeless.
A part of it would get you through a lifetime.
The whole of it cannot last them a night.
Departure of a Princess from Chaos
Only a peasant-girl
danced and drugged
to pre-genital peace
after dry hours of status-sex
or the rote halitosis of “higher goals”
discharged by the kind of authority-figure
bestowed on those without authority
could be so bored, but I am no peasant,
she thinks, and decides to leave.
Swift and alone
she has soared in awareness
from illusion to intimacy, unicorns
to horses, horses to rock-stars, intimacy to power,
the divine to the human and thence to science,
and is guardedly ready to live.
On a tour of the provinces, she
learned how dragons
temper demands
for produce and virgins
to the curve of inflation, till
the dragon gradually becomes a hill
on which new dragons settle, whom some knight
must bravely, deniably, uselessly fight.
She describes the process to her handmaids
when, moved by whim, she orders
take-out and, moved
by their pronounced anorexia, tries
to share dim sum or spring-rolls,
which the maids (who will starve without reaching her size)
leave giggling to rot.
The Queen, informed of the girl’s resolve
by ranks of equerries who
then gallop for exile, fills
the halls of the palace with howls
of regret?  Envy?  Rage?  Do such terms
apply between mother and daughter,
is a question put to the royal soothsayer
and prisoners on the rack.
The Princess meanwhile
on a battlement wonders
how the purging fires of globalization
allow the gap-toothed, lousy yeomen
below to waggle withered 
carrots at her on their way to market,
and even more obscenely coming back.
And her father, less histrionic because
the role of a King is endlessly, almost
impersonally to mourn
the vast unintended consequence
of history, mentions
the risk she runs: barbarians,
who all her life have been crossing
a notional border.
She expands, briefly, warming his heart
with half her mind, on roads and forts,
missiles and trade; the other half
has entered a familiar, savage bower
where she awaits an unfamiliar power
in which to swoon, and the profile (not
too keen, she hopes) of order.

Frederick Pollack is the author of two book-length narrative poems, THE ADVENTURE and HAPPINESS, both published by Story Line Press.  Other poems in print and online journals.  Adjunct professor creative writing George Washington University.

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