Two Poems

by Frederick Pollack

The Finding of the Sibylline Books

(Giulio Romano)

The old man descending
a hill from a perfect Palladian villa
is old to signify
gravitas, but strong and alert.
He need bear no hint
of Peerage or Church (sword or cross); he implies,
nay, transcends them. His hat
(from Ancient Greece) will be repopularized
by Goethe a few miles north some centuries hence.
The man he addresses, one of a scrum
of men prying open a sarcophagus,
is younger, more muscular,
but scarcely less noble. Labor
in this iteration is eager,
engaged. The workman hands
a disinterred book (not a scroll), improbably
preserved, in bright red leather,

to the boss. Sound enters. It has
the tunneledness of sound in the first sound films.
“What is this precious book?”
he asks without irony. – “These
were the oracles sold by the Sibyl of Cumae
to Tarquin, last king of Rome.
When he refused her price she burned
three books, then three more;
these are the three he bought at that price.
When something occurred or was feared, they
were consulted; rites were held, new temples built,
and Rome endured twelve hundred years.”
(Despite its pedantic tone, the voice is moved.)
– “And what was predicted?” – “Same as with us,”
the old man shrugs. “War. Plague.
Unrest. The oracles themselves
were never uttered,” he adds,

“only the indicated sacrifices.”
He hurries off to read.
The workman and his friends resume
their exploration of the tomb.
A faint, mephitic smell arises,
older than that of the earth they have displaced.
He seems (or do they all?) to see
a woman crouching painfully
over a brazier. Something is burning there
that isn’t peat or wood. Her eyes
are red, cheeks sunken, pale. She
babbles. Slaves transcribe and, as she faints,
catch her before she falls into the fire.
Restored, she edits; viciously
berates them. This won’t do –
Egypt is all but named, here! My only
power is to be tortured but not blamed.

On the Holodeck

One of my duties as a Starfleet
psychologist is to review
usage of this facility.
There’s an expectation of privacy,
but, for the sake of the health of the crew
as a whole, it has an exception.
Boys have, of course, no secrets.
Sport, racing crude vehicles, jousting;
war in the innocent, brutal ages
when it was confined to one planet and
allowed. One medical assistant
gardens, carefully storing
his roses and their problems
in nothingness after an hour. Those
who recreate their homes bear watching:
some program sad compensatory scenes;
I call them in on some pretext. The many
erotic scenarios are mostly sweet.
Some tip into the outrageous,
disturbing, exploitative, or cruel;
these too I check. Last week a cadet
in Comms managed somehow
to block me. A note, not to me specifically,
warned that if those sessions were viewed
she would walk out an airlock; I notified
the Captain. People,
I think, would be amused more
than alarmed if they saw my fantasy.
The metal room evokes another
metal room: my office, but with
more comfortable chairs and access.

Author of two book-length narrative poems, The Adventure (Story Line Press, 1986; to be reissued by Red Hen Press) and Happiness (Story Line Press, 1998), and two collections, A Poverty of Words (Prolific Press, 2015) and Landscape with Mutant (Smokestack Books, 2018). In print, Pollack’s work has appeared in Hudson Review, Salmagundi, Poetry Salzburg Review, Manhattan Review, Skidrow Penthouse, Main Street Rag, Miramar, Chicago Quarterly Review, The Fish Anthology (Ireland), Poetry Quarterly Review, Magma (UK), Neon (UK), Orbis (UK), ArmarollaDecember, and elsewhere. Online, his poems have appeared in Big Bridge, Diagram, BlazeVox, Mudlark, Occupoetry, Faircloth Review, Triggerfish, Big Pond Rumours (Canada), MisfitFormer People (2014) and elsewhere.

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