Frederick Pollack

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Artwork by Gene McCormick

Midnight Zoom

I gather its New Year’s. On Thanksgiving,
we tried to do Thanksgiving
this way. But the sight
of all those people, friends and their friends, eating
carbs and turkey in their little squares
was too symbolic; people picked at their food.
Now it’s New Year’s, and we all only
have drinks. The frames extend and extend;
who invited them all? That blank white dome and sun
which means someone’s both there and not there –
lots of those. If this continues,
neonazis will join, waving guns,
making throat-cutting gestures. So, I
swipe back. That face which proves
its superior brains or info with a smile,
never talking. The one who can’t figure out
the tech. Depression highlighted by
bad lighting. Offscreen the ball drops;
fatuous music and free-association
about hope. Glasses, bottles are raised. I’m called on
to deliver my yearly poem on that theme. And
start, and people signal me
to unmute myself. But is that possible?

To Those in Hallways

If you’re lucky, you have a view
of more than a bit of wall,
painted or tiled, beneath the unbearable,
truthful lights, with that unfortunate
invisible film that forms
on hospitals. Can see
though glass to where ventilators
minister to your comrades
(uncomfortable word) – your
brothers and sisters in impotence
(genderless, seeming without mass,
stray limb, blanket tangle)
beneath blue hands and gowns and shielded faces.
(Blue is the color here of death and help.)
Because you came late, no ventilator
for you, only
oxygen scarcely displacing
what fills your lungs, the last taste
(smell long since gone); each
breath the sole measure
of time (the clock on the wall madly wrong),
of which there will soon be none.

But those in shields and gloves want
to get to you, as urgently
as if you were trapped on a mountain. And if
you climbed stupidly, it doesn’t matter –
victims accepted as such
are absolved of all faults. They strive
with the form
on the ICU bed so they
can reach you. But exhaustion
in the tepid air of this place is
a blizzard, despair
a crevasse in the rock, a
tremor; and when that patient dies,
they bend as if before an avalanche.
(But lucky you might get that bed.) Then straighten,
stand. One phones.
Perhaps last goodbyes have been said, through glass,
or must be said now. There are no
new masks. The dead
accumulate in vans. The ambulances
reverse, drive off. The Governor says what he must
to please those who must not be called fools.


Frederick Pollack is the author of two book-length narrative poems, The Adventure and Happiness (Story Line Press; the former to be reissued by Red Hen Press), and two collections, A Poverty of Words (Prolific Press, 2015) and Landscape with Mutant (Smokestack Books, UK, 2018). Many other poems in print and online journals (Misfit 2014 & 2019).