Cafeteria, State Street.

by Frederick Pollack

Salisbury steak with a thick
vinegary gravy, stringbeans with the sodium
of preservatives still on them, jello –
could it be jello? – for dessert,
or apple pie I was supposed to like
but never liked, attempting
to cover every part of it
with ice cream. Meanwhile
talking – I remember talking, not
listening (to anything), or silences
(though they must have existed),
or even how Mother looked.
And one decoration, fading orange-red
on a grey wall, three medieval jongleurs
in motley, one with a lute,
their smiles wrong, their dance improbable.

I still don’t understand
why divorce required
the privacy of a honeymoon, sending me
to the apartment of an aunt
on the South Side or one
on Morse – other places
where the Thirties endured the Fifties.
(I’m sorry if, over time, that’s become
obscure.)  Was it to give him
the wherewithal, the “space”
(as people said later) to begin,
as he did once, to choke her?
Other times she accompanied
me overnight to these outposts,
whispering in kitchens
while I watched Victory at Sea.

She wouldn’t have written this
but, could she see it,
she would question the tight-lipped style.
I would explain that it augments, rather than deadens,
the emotion and focuses
the reader.  And she would say,
You’re protecting yourself.
  As on his deathbed, Father –
handing me an envelope
containing, essentially, money – managed
to gasp, You have to be protected ...
(It was dreadful how much I agreed.)


Frederick Pollack is the author of two book-length narrative poems, The Adventure andHappiness, both published by Story Line Press.  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, elimae, Wheelhouse, Mudlark, Shadow Train and elsewhere.  Pollack is an adjunct professor of creative writing at George Washington University, Washington, DC.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s