Frederick Pollack is the 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, 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. Adjunct professor creative writing George Washington University.
The Guard Dies
By droshky, trap, and landau,
the worthy and responsible of the realm
arrive one icy night
at an auxiliary palace deep in the country.
Their horses, glad of rest,
shiver, piteously snort, and are quickly stabled.
Alighting, the Ministers of War,
the Exchequer, Public Order, Education,
and other medaled chests mightier still,
warm in their furs, discuss –
somber, but careless of being heard –
issues of state. The smoke
of pipes and cigars rewards
the single guard, a conscript, young and hale,
whose uniform is gorgeous but too thin,
whom only the officers acknowledge, and
who trembles now with awe as well as cold.
They pass into the palace,
fling off their coats, dine and refresh themselves,
then gather in a glassed and darkened alcove
from which, unseen, unheard, they watch the guard.
During the night older nobles
doze, are laughed awake, and hurry
as they can to the window.
A table groans with dainties, brandy, humidors.
“He’s Twentieth Regiment, isn’t he?”
asks a civilian, showing off.
“They choose the best.” A field marshal
names the boy’s province, which is praised.
No bets are laid; it would mean social death
to suggest one. At midnight
the watch should change but doesn’t;
and the guard, pale in torchlight,
looks around – the watchers hold their breath –
takes a few steps, slaps his arms,
then comes again to attention.
At one, the constant wind brings heavy snow,
which, to the witnesses’ delight, persists.
At three fifteen he slumps, at four
he falls and is swiftly covered;
so that the usual debate occurs,
idle and slurred, whether to wake
and shoot what limbs are left or let him sleep.