Poetry by Iain Haley Pollock

a grove along the highway // between Monterey & here

Mountains     behind Salinas
            El Gabilan     rise in a color
Californians call     golden      but seems sere
       & lifeless in the midsummer shimmer
We ate lunch in a bank     converted to a pub
            It brewed its own beer    drums of malt & yeast 

            fermenting     in the old vault   After our meal    
we walked out     onto a Main Street lined with blank
       awnings & vacant windows displaying dust
                         & fog     We pulled into this cemetery
& the way to Steinbeck’s grave seemed so clearly marked    
            but we’re wandering now      scanning stones
for Hamilton     Steinbeck buried in his maternal plot  

            The child    small in Naomi’s womb   (the size
of an orange     growing in a grove along the highway
    between Monterey & here)      slows her pace      drags her
                         into fatigue   Again I’m pushing a search   
as she asked me not to    past what’s comfortable   
     or healthy     When finally we arrive    at Steinbeck’s grave

we find the offerings    other visitors have left   pennies    
            brittle copies of his paperbacks     open cones
from the overhanging ponderosa     a shark’s tooth    Empty
          gestures    I claim    Won’t bring anyone back    and Naomi      
 does not respond      Then we turn   & head to the main path

    where I see the markers    that in my hunt    I’d overlooked
a huddle of infants’ graves     their dates & inscriptions
             faint    The better part of a week some girls & boys
                 survived    but most lived a day    a few hours     no
second sunrise     no name beyond the family     were born
                                                                                & died.

Dem Kill My Mama

Fela Kuti, after the government raided
his compound and killed his mother, carried
her coffin through the streets for the reason

Mamie Till opened her son’s casket and let
the world see Emmett’s head like a caved-in gourd,
his neck burned for bearing the gin fan’s weight.

I wish had some comfort for you. But whatever
kindnesses we’ve suffered—the strange men
rocking our cars out of the snowbank, the silent

neighbor picking up our spilled groceries—here
and now the sunlight passing through the last days
of catalpa leaves and onto the steering wheel

cannot bring the whistle back to our children’s lips,
cannot sit our mothers, feet crossed at their ankles,
back in their good, burgundy-upholstered chairs.

We are their only hope for return when we hinge
our bodies open to full breadth, balance splintering
wood on the fulcrum of our shoulders, and lean in. 

 

Iain Haley Pollock's first collection of poems, Spit Back a Boy, won the 2010 Cave Canem Poetry Prize.  He teaches English at Rye Country Day School in Rye, New York, and is on the poetry faculty of Pine Manor College's Solstice MFA program.