I’m gratified that you asked me
to address you today; but if we’re honest,
you had little choice. This afternoon
your faces, ranged in tactful light,
are both my canvas and my paint,
my page and words, my score
and harmonies (or, more often, dissonances)
I intuit. As the work proceeds,
my heavy pleasantries will make you laugh
with finely-gauged abandon;
each labored point will earn
a concentrated frown
that gradually, judiciously gives way
to enthusiastic nodding. When I stop,
you’ll applaud, when I leave,
your experience will remain –
beneath whatever deniable
humor – a positive one
because you survived it;
because arbitrariness,
for its own reasons, will have appeared
less, and thereby made you feel
privately graced, touched by a mystery
you consciously despise.

Some may complain that what this work of mine
lacks is a theme, while others, subtler,
note that where the medium
is the audience, fear and cupidity
the text, there really is no audience.
To both objections my response
is the simple phrase, The Emperor.
To whom, that’s right, we bow, and whom
we love. Whose meanings and intentions
are as far beyond mine
as mine are beyond yours – that is,
not infinitely, but always just enough.

You might protest (although you never will)
that what distinguishes what I do
from what you like to think you do
is freedom. You never hurt anyone;
your characters, however evil,
your symbols, however cruel,
exist in a kindly way, only to serve.
To which I say, Consider how much freedom
Art has gained since my master and I
saved the republic. Freedom
to carp, to eroticize chaos, gild
neurosis with a sheen of liberty…
you could flood the stars with pornography!
You must admit we never interfere.
Imagine how you’d feel if someone did.
This ending is depressing, that metaphor
unsubtle. I don’t like those colors.
We want a marching tune! … I see
understanding, I see a young hatred
coursing through old or timid bones.
Pursue the feeling; listen to your feelings.
Hate eats the soul, but when it finishes
it leaves another soul.

A personal note: today
when I landed here, I stood out in the sun,
the harsh sun of this world.
Officials bustled so urgently
that nothing moved. Imperial troops
held back the crowd, reporters; led away
protestors and the inevitable beggar.
My cybernetic gadgetry
kept the unimaginably ravaged
body of which I’m seldom conscious
cool, and I reflected
on politics and how to end this speech.
Regimes commence with political
discourse – preserving democracy and so on –
but must proceed by bringing in
religion, of which I have made quite
a study. So instead of a farewell,
I urge on you these words
from a minor faith of a minor planet:
I will not let you go until you bless me

Frederick Pollack is the author of two book-length narrative poems, The Adventure and Happiness, both published by Story Line Press. A collection of short poems, A Poverty of Words, was published in 2015 by Prolific Press. Many of his poems have appeared in print and online journals. Pollack is an adjunct professor of creative writing at George Washington University.