“Grand Hotel” By Frederick Pollack

As a courtesy, the government man
lets the manager sit in on
the surveillance. But the cameras
are the hotel’s, and the manager thinks
it’s his courtesy. The other agents
in the room could set him straight,
but their chief signals them to stand down.
On the screen they’re watching,
a man viewed from the ceiling in green light
uneasily sleeps. Earlier they saw him
boringly, unhappily prepare
for bed. This man (the agent explained
with a frankness that pleased the manager)
represents democratic forces
in a small, important, troubled, distant land;
tomorrow he’ll sleep elsewhere,
and tonight his foes will not kill him.
On other screens, in remote stairwells,
men in helmets and armor
unobtrusively lurk; plainclothes types
(the manager knows the look) sit
neatly, here and there, in the lobbies.
The manager observes his usual screens.
On 30 North a girl is locked out
of her room. No – she’s looking
at herself, not in a mirror,
but in a polished panel of the hallway
wall. Will she kiss that reflection?
No – she leans her brow against it.
Will she hit her head against it?
Should he send someone? Can he? On 12 South,
a large man in an expensive
though markedly disheveled suit
(Why hasn’t he put on our nice white bathrobe?
the manager wonders), clutching a bucket,
confronts an ice machine. Seems unable
to interpret it, weaves back and forth
as if praying. The SWAT teams – if that’s the proper term
with feds – take one step up
in their secret stairwells and stop,
like martial angels ascending. Here and there,
in (the manager checks
a readout, smiles without prurience) nine percent
of the rooms, lovers thrash. The kitchens
gleam and are gratifyingly hectic
without chaos. On 50 South
the Thing appears. Maids give it various
Spanish names, but their silence has been bought.
Behind it, scuffs and mildew manifest.
Its grey skin, eyes red
with inscrutable rage, grief
or allergies fill the manager
with professional hate and worry. Of course It won’t
appear on the tapes. Should he ask
the government man for help? Now’s not the time.
In the North Tower bar, entering which
(critics say) is like strolling into
an Old Master, a somewhat older
man and somewhat younger woman
gaze off at angles. “She couldn’t–”
says the woman, and the man: “He–” The manager
adjusts his earphones to block
the jolly noise of the bar. “After a while
none of it meant anything,”
says the woman. “Even the kids?”
the man asks. She possibly sighs.
“He tried as hard as he could–” says
the man, without asperity. But noise
returns, a dropped tray, and what the manager hears
next is something from her about
“values,” how they can’t be just put on
like a dress. He agrees; more vigorously:
“It’s better in hotels,
isn’t it? Someone else to change the sheets…”
Intrigued, the manager misses
the moment the soldiers
begin to mount the stairs. When he looks,
those screens are dark, and so is the room
of the foreign personage. The agent,
pressing his own headphones, scowls for silence;
then rises (his team has exited), thanks
the manager for his patience
and patriotism. Reassures him
no guest and no routine has been disturbed.
“Was he attacked?” asks the manager. “We had to
extract him,” says the agent.
“But he’s safe?” “Of course,” the agent smiles;
shakes hands and leaves. Though it’s late,
Reception is crowded: a boisterous group has arrived.
Huge SUVs pull up, depart;
and if one appears
at a loading dock and leaves with strange cargo,
the manager knows he has no need to know.

*

Frederick Pollack is the author of two book-length narrative poems, The Adventure and Happiness, and a collection, A Poverty Of Words. Another collection, Landscape With Mutant, is to be published in 2018 by Smokestack Books. Many more of his poems appear in print and online journals.

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