East of Midway, 55th
becomes two Garfield Boulevards,
a half-block park between.
In summer, at every intersection,
alone or in groups,
people sell bottled water.
They face the street, the burnt,
boarded and empty,
or barred and crowded apartments.
Wind from the cars lifts plastic bags
and paper from grass and sidewalks.
Kids shuffle towards basketball,
picnics, and dealers
in the park, are yelled back
by stick-limbed or very fat
grandmas in lawn-chairs
in the shade of trees, beside coolers.
The cars seldom stop,
whether all their windows
are down or up. Yet at the corner
of Normal, Ada, Throop, Racine,
Union, LaSalle, an arm waves
a bottle, a sweat-ringed mouth
calls. So that it seems
one person, and as if
to say I’m fulfilling a role,
am needed, have purpose. No sale.
Perhaps, opening a cupboard
for a new bottle, I lose
my friends’ and the fire’s
reflections in its beveled glass.
Though I hear, over cork and pouring,
their wild elaborations
of a joke that is also an idea,
and hurry to return to them.
But perhaps there’s some hint
of contretemps, criticism,
or not even that –
the mere fact of turning away.
The bottle is empty,
was. The apartment, void
of all but the usual flotsam.
Even moths won’t enter,
their eyes an interstellar dark,
saying He who knows
and rightly claims he asks for little
has already asked too much.
I’m delighted, like most people,
to find there’s little
connection between my moderate evil
in life and what happens after.
The worst, which isn’t very bad,
is having to see my combination
parole- and case-officer. He’s
a slob, his desk always full
of wrappers and half-eaten hoagies.
When he’s out, he leaves my check
for the quarter in a corner
of the mess. (I’d prefer cash.) When
he’s there, I have to answer
questions that even to him
appear pointless. Otherwise, I move
among the cities of a polished Rustbelt.
Steaks at Mantini’s, strippers in the Flats.
Or down to Talladega for the races.
At times I recall I had artier tastes,
but the rule here seems to be Gleichschaltung.
And full employment, forever: the factories
pump out cars, the suburbs
expand into other dimensions,
but who can talk to those union types?
I’m always one step ahead
of some husband or debt. If I ever
decide to settle down, I’ll check
the personals and want-ads (there are papers)
and get a job in hell.
Fred Pollack was born and attended high school in Chicago. Author of two book-length narrative poems, THE ADVENTURE and HAPPINESS, both published by Story Line Press. Has appeared in Hudson Review, Salmagundi, Poetry Salzburg Review, Die Gazette (Munich), The Fish Anthology (Ireland), Representations, Magma (UK), Bateau, Fulcrum, Chiron Review, etc. Online, poems have appeared in Big Bridge, Hamilton Stone Review, Diagram, BlazeVox, The New Hampshire Review, Mudlark, etc. Recent Web publications in Occupoetry, Faircloth Review, Camel Saloon, Kalkion, Gap Toothed Madness. Adjunct professor creative writing George Washington University. Poetics: neither navelgazing mainstream nor academic pseudo-avant-garde.