Frederick Pollack

The Happy One That morning he spoke for hourswith a woman who had traveled far. The otherswaited, grumbled, read (no TV). When shecame out, we asked – for the recordwe unofficially keep – what was said.Personal problems. Her marriage.Her sister, demanding, judgmentalsince childhood. Had he helped? Enthusiasticyes; specifics. Did he say anything else?we asked. On this point,she hesitated. Something about a planetwith no moon. The creatures who live thereeach think they have a moonto which they can retreat, but there’s only the planet.The moon is something they will have to buildwhen all have recognized the need for it.We asked what she made of this.She said she would think about it; soundedsincere. One by one,we let the others in. Perhaps it was because she was pretty;but he never … At two, we fed himand ourselves. He seemed neither enlivenedby the day’s talks, nor petulantthe way he sometimes secretively gets.He spoke of a little square,two-dimensional or less, that’s leftwhen everything – hope, desire –is taken away. Enormous stormssweep over it, with all the atmospheresand temperatures of the solar system. But it can’tbe hurt or destroyed, for it existsin another realm, where the only wordsthat apply to it are secret.With this he wept a little, in his way,the expression unchanging. We shield,for a while, the young who come to help herefrom seeing that. When they do,they ask in what sense he’s happy.We let them work it out. For much of the day, a fine raindripped from the eavesas he spoke with more visitors.Though none went away unsatisfied,some felt he had been disturbed by the rain.One said he had even talkeda moment about his own past –some spring or fall that, said the pilgrim,had now become his too, indelibly(but added he didn’t mind).To another he mentioned, in passing,the hatefulness of the world;but mostly it was the usual troublesand his advice, his pleasfor compassion, objectivity and so on.By late afternoon, the rain stopped.Light flooded between the grassand the dark layer of cloud. He saidhe loved this. It was the light insidea miniature; he called it “enclosed light.” We moved him into the sun. I Was Then Known by Other Names In the last year of Ike’s first term,I drew on a sheet of blue-lined three-holed paperan internal view of a cave.A stream ran through it. I neglectedto wonder where the stream went,whether it flowed from the mouthor returned underground. What pleased mewas that it answered the questionsof drinking water and, to some extent, hygiene.I added a sort of flywheel,carefully proportioned to the width and depthof the stream. It was connectedto a generator, which looked like a large battery.Wires ran in all directions,to a hotplate, a record player,a lamp beside my mattress on the ground.No guns; no photoelectric cellsdownslope. I remember a bookcase,and a few books, nicely sketched, beside the mattress.There was also a journal,though I’m sure I didn’t imaginethe time I would spend there, only a constant joyof solitude. What might I have written?“I’m not saying that death cannot be avoided,only that your retreat must be very remote.” Presence 1 It came to me that friends who had drifted away,whom I had allowed or even, not admitting itto myself, encouraged to drift away andnow missed, had gone on with their lives, goneto grad school, jail, the Peace Corps, benefitedfrom the last generosityof the welfare state and/or grants, had taught, werestill teaching in Connecticut, Montana,some high school, had remarried, hadpictures, screensavers of kids, ten yearssobriety, none, had votedfor Dukakis, no one, Trump,and now, staring into their wineor vodka, searched – for a possibly namelessregion of being, annoying, passé,undeserving, broadcastinga blur that would not be taken toa lab and cleaned up, because they(my friends) had long outgrownthe dream of reciprocity. 2 This insight was, however, partof my continuing research into ghosts. Religiousdoctrines of an afterlifedon’t bother them, but they’re deathon secular, sentimental speculation. Theyinsist on, agitate constantly for,the void. This may be defensive in some way,but against what? Why? Perhapsthe dead of every world and species mergeembarrassingly with the rest. In which caseNothingness itself might be,from their side, a program:a radical, subversive hopefor individuality. What seemsclear, at least, is that they’re corporate.A haunted house has merely been foreclosed.Like the bed of your lost love; likeyour own. I speculate that they’redark matter – each (like me)a Weakly Interacting Massive Particle. Author of two book-length narrative poems, The Adventure and Happiness (Story Line Press), and a collection, A Poverty of Words (Prolific Press). Another collection, Landscape with Mutant, to be published in 2018 by Smokestack Books (UK). Many other poems in print and online journals. Adjunct professor creative writing George Washington University.