Best Shot

Small, squarish, thick,
with a pale-green cover,
it made me feel learnèd,
carrying it around: Hendrik Willem van Loon’s
Story of Mankind, with his spare,
quasi-Expressionist line-drawings.
The story seemed to occur
mostly in Holland, but I liked how
he explained, or expressed,
mysteries. If he were sitting,
for example, in 1930,
on a bench in Holland, and the Emperor Napoleon
rode by and, with a glance,
summoned him, he, van Loon –
even knowing what he knew –
would have to fall in.
That impressed me at eleven.

Later I entered
some five or six thousand used bookstores,
often unpromising, from Bangor to San Diego.
Through the wrong end of a telescope
I see sidewalks, me, entrances,
then my back as I leave, carrying something.
The people who run used bookstores
often play the worst music they can –
Forties novelty-items, polkas –
and their talk is comparable.
I never met a Saba or a Péguy.

What I can’t see through the telescope
is what all those purchases
led to, beside what’s on my shelves:
carcasses, mummies, the undead,
statues, and vivid speaking faces,
however shadowed now.
If I could look back instead
at cars I repaired or stole,
sweaty dances, sweatier knife-fights
and a few hundred more
strange beds, I might be happier;
but I couldn’t enclose them
in a few pithy lines, as I have here.

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