The Unpleasant Man

Frederick Pollack

For a change, it isn’t his usual
ice-caps melting, species dying,
the fast-approaching deserts
and savagery.  Which fill (he fills) us
only with irritation: we know all this;
he uses it somehow as self-validation.
Shouldn’t he more properly
cherish and add to our moments of weary
comradeship (those moments which
alone are civilization),
making of each a kind of eternity?
Instead he raises his eyebrows
as if amused, and cites
statistics that, however accurate,
will deaden thought before disaster ends it.

But tonight, almost mercifully,
he proclaims a seemingly
more willed and avoidable doom: the Religious Right,
Islamofascism (he says he likes
the sound of the neocon term, which makes
us flinch).  Bad things, we agree;
yet he goes on to say
that something good will come
of the coming religious wars:
the definitive end of all religious nonsense.
Of God.  So that our heirs,
the great-grandchildren of survivors, when
they sit again with friends will know the worth
of wine and friendship and be satisfied
with science and mortality and earth.

Which sounds ingratiating, if
rhetorical, and we might be appeased
in advance; but he provocatively stops.
Unusually uncomfortable
(more so than if extinction were on the table),
we gaze through various objective and subjective
windows.  At our faithful cars,
our costly, well-deserved, embattled peace.
At long-dead nuns we love to hate.
At moments in a cathedral
or in some national park
when chatter fell away, and
as if in a new act
of an unconvincing play, some added props,
candles or stars, expanded our perspective.

Apart from which, not quite admitting it,
we each retrieve or fall
into that secret afterlife
where long-abandoned dolls will talk and cats
return, and mothers give up all
their secrets like the sea, and love
apologize forever in detail –
a far more poignant private sacrament
than the idea of sitting here someday,
not even as ourselves, but wiser strangers.
So that our friend, who smiles as if he knows
what we are feeling, faces something
like an unspoken hurricane that blows
from the Gulf into more and more northerly states,
disintegrating as it goes.

About the Work

Frederick Pollack

Frederick Pollack is the author of two book-length narrative poems, The Adventure and Happiness, both published by Story Line Press. Other of his poems and essays have appeared in Hudson Review, Southern Review, Fulcrum, Salmagundi, Poetry Salzburg Review, Die Gazette (Munich), Representations, and elsewhere. Poems have most recently appeared in the print journals Magma (UK), The Hat, Bateau, and Chiron Review. Online, poems have appeared in Big Bridge, Snorkel, Hamilton Stone Review, Diagram, BlazeVox, The New Hampshire Review, Denver Syntax, Barnwood, Wheelhouse, Mudlark, Shadow Train, and elsewhere. Pollack is an adjunct professor of creative writing at George Washington University, Washington, DC.

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