The Maynard
Spring 2014

Fred Pollack

These Conditions


The grass seems mowed around the ruins
and seems to be grass, not the contemptible
tendrils of returning jungle.
Perhaps the life-force, the decay-force,
is exhausted at last. Or kept at bay
by a dome of greater force.

Among the ruins, snakes flee.
Paper—there was once so much paper—
clings to spikes of glass and shards
of metal that might otherwise cause tetanus,
while exposed rebar bends in the direction
the explorer follows, following words

from billboard to stele. The inscriptions
trail off into decay. The gazes
of cruel kings and supermodels
waver, even where eyes are undefaced.
A fallen tower transmits no calls,
a raised stump salutes stasis.

If someone has prepared a table for you
in the wilderness, you’re still not safe: that table
must be yours absolutely, from wine through dessert,
the dishes not brought but there, not removed but gone.
Then, as you dab your lips, you’ll understand
and appreciate more the appeal of ruins.


The victim in the womb is laved
by gentle amniotic fluid
and mostly unadulterated
blood. As he grows,
eye-hand coordination,
reflexes, digestion
appear unaffected
by disciplinary blows
to the head. Gaps in his belly
feel proportional to those
between stars he looks up at
covertly. He has a sense of self,
and a moral sense, which is
Don’t snitch. Is quite unnecessary
either for production or
consumption, and therefore sees
his future, if any, in
distribution. Yet he mainly resents
me, for whatever I name him
is wrong; however I look into
his eyes, the more my gaze lands
above them; the more lucid I am,
the lamer. At nine
he attains manhood, at ten
is blown away. It might sound
as if I’m blaming the victim here.
Yet which of us is not
a victim? Ascribing larger blame
and making it stick is unlikely.
And what are victims for
but to lie in state holding
a teddy bear, a Glock?


Who would have thought the graying ponytail
whom students love because he doesn’t judge,
and nurtures them and is supportive
(those who want criticism shrug and subside),
could have so many rooms? And afford catering?
In the rustbelt called the humanities,
senior faculty regard each other
with the fondness and dislike
of long-married couples, intellect
dissolved in publication like sex in chores.
Young tenure-tracks are, in this metaphor,
the children, eager to please and refute,
while adjuncts, I suppose, are bond-servants
(see Job and Kings). The loathing
that comes from powerlessness passes
for wisdom, even among the wise;
what beer there is is light, and the wine lighter.
Suddenly the highest-paid critic
and “strongest relativist in the world”
appears, a guest lecturer. And Dr. Fuller,
who testified for Intelligent Design
and the Dover School Board. “Science stems
from religion anyway, and should respect it;
the Jesuits taught me that.”
With a sudden existential shift of light,
power arrives, but of a certain type,
and corners (for the sake of argument)
you and your sickly gaze with its winning smile.
“You don’t respect me,” grieves a congressman.
Of course you demur, of course you respect him.
“And you don’t respect the people
I serve.” No, no, you cry, you love people
(or perhaps he claims you claim you do),
which isn’t, admittedly, the point; what you
despise, you say, is illusion.
But the simplest logical distinction
seems physically impossible to make
now, as your colleagues
put chin to chest and brow to chin,
each sagging bolus folded on a grin
that combines despair and smugness.
While you still can, you say comically
you need a cigarette, i.e., fresh air.
Horror ensues. And indeed
it’s too small a symbol for what’s happening.
Except insofar as some people step out for a smoke;
some smoke because they’d rather be outside.


Also this year, “crush videos”—teens
and others watching
kittens and puppies killed by various means.

”Bullycides,“ thousands—five at one school;
one perp amazingly brought
to trial on the generally ignored
law. Tip of the iceberg.
Soon the flap will fade, and the awkward term,
like icebergs.

Meanwhile the girls whose taunts—
“ugly,” accent, etc.—
and cyberbullying and
occasional shoves down stairs, flung food,
etc. drove Sladjana Vidovic,
16, to hang herself,
attended her funeral,
looked into her casket,
and laughed.


The last poet works for the Emperor of the North.
Or maybe he’s still called the President
for tradition’s sake. Is wholly owned
by consortia of mobsters—Canucks, Russians,
if such distinctions still mean something—
but juggles them and keeps them happy
so they allow his little fetishes.
Where once the ice sheet lay, the pumps
and drills creak. Coolies dig
uranium and copper. Serfs
sow barley on whatever imported topsoil
survives the rains. The yellow haze
to the south draws ever nearer, but in it flies
the flag of Greenland, coolest in the world.

The last poet isn’t an official bard—
his boss could care less. He’s a bureaucrat,
the bureaucrat. But with no computer
he has to use whatever paper comes
to hand – erased paper, backs
of papers. And the totals that appear
are notional; but the President, who is also
a poet in his way, believes in them.
The last poet is also a full-blood Inuit,
maybe the last. You know what happened
to the others. Sometimes he thinks
about igloos, bone knives, sealskin, songs
through the hard night for thirty thousand years,
and tries to visualize a whale.

But what he writes on ancient envelopes
concerns the stunted geese, the rare wildflowers,
a scream he heard, glaucoma.
Then he must greet investors from the south
and shuffle and be stupid for them
and the boss, and not observe too closely
their girls, or their rusty ship, or the people
they’ve brought to eat; and by the time
he returns to his office, where he mostly sleeps,
he doesn’t feel like writing any more.
Anyway, the last school is closed.
A hot wind shakes the grimy window.
He’s wakeful. Watches, bored, the Northern Lights
and kills another bottle. Towards dawn he writes.


The lights across the river blur
because you squint. The bench is damp and cold,
surroundings trite, emotions adolescent.
—All basic data, difficult to ignore,
like being insignificant and old.
Empire falls, yet you expect the car
and credit card to work, the fish
you’re thawing for dinner not to poison you
(though you know better), the police
and home invaders not to knock, the air
to remain ubiquitous and universal
love at last to proclaim itself,
death to continue polite, the past quiescent
and full of all the future you could wish.
At hours like these you probe your mind
like an enemy position and peer—
not towards madness, because sanity
inexorably triumphs—but into
that void where other people are:
those you renounced, forgot, or never knew.
Nothing can stop you, with your eyes half-closed,
from speaking for them. Our demands
are non-negotiable. We state
the following conditions ... then you find
the night is eager to negotiate.