Monday Jul 22

Pollock Iain Haley Pollock's first collection of poems, Spit Back a Boy, won the 2010 Cave Canem Prize.  He lives with his wife and son in Philadelphia and serves as the Cyrus H. Nathan Faculty Chair in English at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy.  In addition, he teaches in the Solstice MFA Program of Pine Manor College and in the Rutgers-Camden MFA Program.

Grasping at Swallow’s Tail

I walk along the river path where
a group of men, none of them Chinese,
are practicing Tai Chi. I tried
these movements once, but then
could only find harmony in their names:

Hands Like Clouds. White Crane
Spreads Wings. Search for Needle
on Sea Bottom. Behind the men,
a leaf drifts along the current.
I tell myself it has fallen

from a box elder—I’ve hiked
past stands of those trees
beside the creek that feeds
this green river. And from narrow
green river, the leaf will spill

into broad brown river, and
at the bay where it would egress
into ocean, red knots wing down
each May from Tierra del Fuego,
wing down withered, chests
sunken to breastbones, wing down

to crack open the husks
of horseshoe crabs and gorge,
bulk up to finish the flight
to the tundra, to nests scraped
into the frost-hardened earth.
Throw the Loom. Flash Arms

Like Fans. And fishermen bait
the line with crab, and the colony
dwindles, and the shorebirds
die off. And the Black boys
of Philadelphia, this summer,
one gunned down each day.

An Old Country

I don’t remember him very well. I don’t remember
his name. I do remember that the other boys
didn’t like him. They said he smelled like burned
cabbage and ate grass by the handful. After a soccer game,
his mother took us to a flea market. We horsed around
at one of the stalls and tossed a hand mirror back
and forth. I couldn’t catch one of his throws
and dropped the mirror. The face and plastic case
shattered. When the woman who ran the stall yelled,
spittle flew from the corners of her mouth.
Still, she refused to take money for the mirror
even when the boy’s mother offered to pay.
We met once, after the soccer season had ended,
to kick the ball around. A stray dog came to the field
and ran loud, frothing circles around us. I remember
that I was afraid. When the dog had scampered off,
the boy’s grandfather, who had been watching us play
from a small rise, walked down and handed us a long stick.
He was from an old country. I don’t remember which one.
Iran? He said something to my friend. It was not in English;
I remember that I did not understand. My friend brandished
the stick: He says next time the dog comes, we should hit him
hard in the head until he stops barking. The dog
didn’t come back. I remember that I was happy.
My family moved to New York a couple years later.
Today, this is all I know about him.

Baltimore Pike

The fig that, as it falls, splits
on cement is not like making love
on the basement couch.
                                      The start a sparrow gives
as it flutters too close to the face
is not like the shock
and laceration of shattered glass.
                                                     The jingle
of the ice-cream truck is not like the sweat of palms
slipping from monkey bars.
                                                     Turning suddenly
into the aisle, the slender-hipped woman,
flowers in the crook of her right arm,
her basket hanging empty on the left,
is not like the closing screak of a gate
left open in the rain.
is the gooseneck gourd on the stone steps
like the grace of a black-footed gander
beating it wings to land in the morning river,
is the toddler’s word for geese—eese—
like a gosling trying to cross the parkway
without its gaggle,
                                 nor is the tick of sleet
on the trolley window like the hiss of steam
circulating into the radiator.
                                              When I stepped
onto the ice-slick sidewalk, I nearly broke
my neck. Three more times, on the walk
from Baltimore to Osage, I almost slipped
and shattered my hip, as did my red-haired aunt
one Flushing winter. I was stranded
heading home from Denver and glad
to arrive at my friend’s door. I drank from the tap
in such flow that my friend’s wife
                                                       (she wasn’t a mother then,
but maybe she was pregnant)
                                             warned I’d grow kidney stones
if I ever stopped downing so much water.
She was right—like the biting, crystalline tear
of salt and calcium in the organs—she was right,
and I was wrong:
                              just as writing “I nearly broke/my neck”
is the lusty, inharmonious hymns deaf old men baritone
from the back pew,
                                   so the limp gosling lying
against the parkway curb, the rushing cars
causing the feathers on its upturned chest
to rise and fall,
                             is the young mouth’s missed
letter: eese


Pollock Photo: credit Rachel Eliza Griffiths