Some Guests

Some Guests
Frederick Pollack


Still living at home;
occasional pretense of a job or school.
No drugs; there’s no downer
in the contemporary world as strong
as time, no high like ignoring it –
except the progressive abandonment
of words. He has instead
by now a thousand grins and shrugs;
for each day’s threat
a new transcendent, suffering silence.
Girls find him sensitive.
(It isn’t a current word. They have
no word for him or what they make
in his room with its separate entrance.)
His friends, the pretense of a band,
are more established but admire him;
his whole their part, they take his part
in the adventure of their twenties,
the delicious drama of regret.


At eighty, a thought
a political scientist
or sociologist would recognize
as such: I came out of
the Depression.
Things were scarce. As a young man
in the Fifties, I was grateful
for things, but thought they were still,
actually, scarce;
I had to deserve them.
And I didn’t know how, except
with a muddled strictness
I applied to myself and my variously
scared children, to whom
all this is obvious.
Soon everything will be scarce again.
I was incredibly lucky
to be born early
and allowed to retire
with a pension and health plan;
but luck is a cruel thing, and mindless. –
In the mirror of the guest
bathroom, before
dinner, he subdues his
beard, and his nostril and ear hairs,
with his faithful, never quite adequate
Norelco. Thinking
Handsome old man … to realize
whatever social capital that bears.


She sits under the one bright
ceiling fixture the “romantic
holiday atmosphere”
permits. It does not highlight
her. The face,
gray and relaxed,
not as a whole, but lid by lid,
knot by knot,
refuses aura, like
the cane across her lap,
the body allowed to slouch, expecting
secretly not to stand again
on the leg swollen by recent falls.
Bulk smells of cooking, noise
from the kitchen and wet-bar,
a detonation of youths, their excuse
about where they are going
now, who will be driving,
meaningless …
none changes the smile
she long ago fell into. Known
to women older and
more ill, among them
the silent mother
of the husband who left her.
To the office devoted to good works
too local and well-meaning
to be explained, and where
unless she drinks too much
she’ll “straighten up some odds and ends”
later. – Televised carols
add to the quiet
only the call of food will interrupt,
and to the shadow
traversed by friendly other lives
she is happy to see as shadow.


The greatness of a rustbelt downtown
is that those stores which aren’t boarded
beneath the proud, outsourced or looted
corporate towers attempt new things,
like a gallery/espresso bar/fringe
music venue; and although a friend
has failed to get a permit for
one or a loan for the other dream, the
space (in that same fiscal limbo
through which a methadone clinic’s clients
and rejects roam a boulevard
empty but regularly swept)
is yours, indefinitely – yours to fill
with art: organic-inorganic
beings like Disney octopi, ducks,
and robots, fused from gears and lathes,
old circuit-boards, stamped-metal ads,
and antique chests and tables, molten
colored plastic poured (why not?)
over them, mostly wired
and flashing, most grinning
your grin, most wearing
a rebar fright-wig resembling
your green-gray hair at work (at night
a pony-tail appears) … a creative
explosion! the chance customer
thinks, or is nudged to think: you love
to talk while sculpting or selling, wish
you could work the dusty espresso-maker
(“Not one of mine!”), ignore
the schizophrenic dropping in (although
he too has thoughts about the city council);
and show up many blocks away
that evening, muted but embracing
the hostess’s cousin, twenty-five
years younger, whose intelligence
(perhaps like yours) is constantly being
sacrificed to will, which tells her
she’s sensitive, and plain, and knows what she’s doing.


Meanwhile a community college
instructor hesitates
among awe at a poet,
mistrust of a soi-disant poet,
joy at being able to vent
his own useless knowledge, and
hate for someone who can leave this town.
“I suppose you’ll have the last word,”
he says. “Sum everyone up,
imply that being in a poem redeems them.” –
“Why not?” I ask. “The critics
and theorists will do the same with me.” –
“They don’t like stories,” he says
with surface neutrality
but underlying insinuating glee,
“or being told things. They’ll call it
another Spoon River Anthology.” –
“Better,” I mutter. – “True.
More modern.” – “Less sentimental,”
I add unnecessarily. –
He sips the awful chardonnay. “I wonder,
however, what you’re trying
to do. It could go on forever.
There’s an infinite possible number of suitably complex
lives connected to those here.” –
“Unless you view the subject in class terms.”
(He echoes the word without interest.)
“A dying class, perhaps, or the class of the dying.”

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