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Frederick Pollack

The Reward

The reward of the historicist

is to read obsolete poems

on JSTOR and become

the poet’s new best friend by buying him drinks.

It’s summer, the cloudy ale

almost cool from its cask. The tide

recedes, the Thames stinks,

but only the historicist notices.

A sergeant-major obviously off

to the colonies wipes

his mustache on his wrist,

emotions reconstructable though complex

like those of the whores outside.

The poet loosens neither tie nor vest,

both worse for wear. He has

a week before a horse-cab, less

absurd than a colleague’s fall from a bar-stool,

beats syphilis to him. Opinions

about darkies and Israelites are there,

but pleasantly subordinated to

despair. He accepts being questioned

however rudely

by a chap from the future, especially when

the latter relates how revered the work

will be, taught in schools; rattles off

the titles of critical studies. Sated,

dabbing away

a tear, the poet 

asks questions of his own, untypically

(from all that is known of him) generous. No war

with France, he is assured; the new,

more distant enemy turned aside,

replete with retailed colonies; balloons

filling the air, a Workers’ Earth … The pub,

the river, poet, sergeant, whores 

and endless clop and cursing fade

again into the quietness around

the historicist, who has no love for pain.


I used to have a character called the Elitist.

He was witty, snarky, and generally alone.

He never signaled virtue, since

he had no currently valued virtue

to signal; and though he never 

said anything un-p.c., you were always 

afraid he might. So he never caught on

with editors.


                      I’ve been thinking

of reviving him. He sits across a wide

bare glass aggressive uncompromising

desk from his afternoon appointments.

“Did you really think I’d be interested

in this?” he snarls, returning a stack

of manuscript. It depicts

mild bourgeois horrors. Is barely literate

according to an ancient standard (his), and

hand-written – she thought the strain

of doing it that way would prove

sincerity and pain. He turns

to the boy, who seems undecided

between pseudo-hipster loose and corporate tight,

and has a film. It’s a mashup

(as its maker would say) of everything – games, posts, 

instas, grades, failed

vacations, prescriptions; “at least no guns,” 

the Elitist growls. On the verge

of dissolution, the two young people 

glance at each other, thinking he’s just

an asshole; but the next supplicant

is also old – it’s unclear

what he has, but the Elitist tears him a new one.


He looks out his enormous window. Below,

amidst regimented trees, families, couples, 

potential couples genteelly glide, 

then, as if at a signal, turn

to ravening hordes. The moon is visible.

Perhaps, he thinks, I should demote

Art from its position of primacy

again to be a subaltern of Nature.

Jim Zola 675DC4F9-2C15-4B6C-B6DA-57E28D416349.jpeg
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