Ghost, Like a Place
Playlist by Alice James Books 5 poems
"Ghost, Like a Place" is a new volume of poetry by Iain Haley Pollock, forthcoming September 18, 2018 from Alice James Books. We're happy to offer you this preview.

This collection highlights the complexities of fatherhood and how to raise young kids while bearing witness to the charged movements of social injustice and inequities of race in America. Memory, culpability, and our very humanness course through this book and strip us down to find joy and inspiration amid the darkness.

“Iain Pollock has a slow, steady hand that’s fine tuning the pentatonic chambers where whole and half notes of the heart glisten the world. This Ghost, like a Place is a phantasm of small psalms settling into territory familiar with new beginnings and bearing ragged, but revealing truths.” —Tyehimba Jess, author of Olio, winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry

“Iain Pollock’s eye is guided by passion—a passion for the city and street life, and the hard facts of individual lives amidst the violence and turmoil of American life today. But given this material, and contrary to what Derek Walcott once called the ‘standard elegiac,’ his poems never moralize or forsake complexity of feeling. His ear for idiom is pitch perfect, and the forward drive of his syntax embodies an undeluded but fundamentally hopeful vision about remaking the world.” —Tom Sleigh
1. An Abridged History of American Violence
Iain Haley Pollock
2. Our Lady of Consolation
Iain Haley Pollock
3. California Penal Code 484
Iain Haley Pollock
4. On the Migration of Black Oystermen from Snow Hill, 
Maryland to Sandy Ground, Staten Island
Iain Haley Pollock
5. The Blue Jay Restaurant (29th & Girard)
Iain Haley Pollock
The boys are kicking over garbage cans
and smashing car windows with heaves
of glass bottles. Time in the pest house
of school or remediation on a road crew

has moved them to boredom with bare knuckles
and stolen knives. Soon, their insecurity
will concentrate on the grip of a Glock

till an enemy, who a minute before
was unknown and not an enemy, appears
under a streetlight. The provocation
will be slight: soft palms hardened

to a shove. In days to come,
friends of the enemy will strip bark
from the few trees they know and graffiti

their grief onto the trunks. And the boys,
even after the votive jars have filled
with rainwater and plastic rose bouquets
have somehow wilted in the humidity,

the boys will also mourn their killed.
In their woe they will want for a light
to slow-drag through them, a light

like the reflection of sequin or chrome.
They will not find it and they will not
find it until they are discovered faceup
in a dirt lot where neighbors remember

a house, a while back, was torn down,
where now bricks and teeth of glass
push up, like Indian bones, through the soil.
I was in a crowded field
and looking for my father.
I caught enough of a beard
and reached for a hand
I thought part of his body.

I did not see the cigarette,
dangling and lit,

until it burned my palm.
At my cry, the hand jerked back
while above it thundered words.

This was not my father.
I could not see him anywhere.

I ran across the field
to my mother, my mother
who enfolded me in her forearms.

She did not let go.

Neither did I, safe then
from all but my need
for body and embrace.
The Irvine cops picked up Sherod
while he was riding Jimmy’s bike
to school. He’d snuck up into the scrub hills
above our complex to work on the fort
we were building with wood from a deserted
rancher’s shack. By the time he came down
to the bus stop, we were the diesel exhaust
that ferried us to our daydreaming hours.

Jimmy’s bike stood in the communal racks.
We all knew the combination to its lock
and took the Huffy as needed. Sherod’s need—
to be at Rancho Middle before his father
found out he’d never made it—his need
was one too many. Jimmy’s father,
out the door to work, saw his son’s bike
gone again, reported it stolen to the cops.
A morning patrol found the bike
underneath a black boy not in school
and hauling ass down Culver Drive.

I did not understand what adult machinations
led to my parents driving that afternoon, with me,
to the Irvine police station. My father
had emigrated from England in the 70s
and was hipped to the American scene as soon
as he started dating my mother. He got out
of our Chevette, looked back at his black wife,
his too-brown son, and said, Stay put, you two.

If he pulled that white savior bullshit now,
we’d have words. But I didn’t have that term
white savior then. Even if I’d known it,
I don’t think I would have used it that day.
Would have cared to use it. My friend was in jail
and headed to juvie, that scare story—whaled on
by high school monsters twice our size—tormenting
our nights and keeping our days straight and narrow.
I didn’t care what my father said inside the station,
with what English boys’ school curtness he said it,
with what iron-backed code of whiteness. Didn’t care
and was happy when he strode out with Sherod

trailing behind him. Sherod, who did not speak
on the ride back to our apartments, who watched rows
of eucalyptus blur by on University Avenue, who
the next morning we avoided at the bus stop,
who did not try to join us, who stood with his back
toward the bike racks, toward Jimmy’s bike, fastened
there again, with new lock, with double loop of new chain.
        What flag will fly for me / When I die?
                                                        —Langston Hughes


From a distance, my flag
and star could be you. I could be.
If I weren’t, my body—the place
would still have need of it. No
Romanesque without me. I am.
I am. And the price of my being:
no monuments built me. None
save those cradled in crabgrass,
left for chicory. No monuments
but the air breathed. The history
of arches and burning
hearts. The history of false teeth
and matches. No monument
but the knowledge gained in overrun
gardens: yellow-ringed snakes
and plumage of undiscovered
birds. But the topography
of mountains we have yet
to scale (looming forever
in the haze).
                    My body, your body—
all our lives we have known
each other. Your arms clung
to porch columns. Mine painted
the fence in whitewash. Mine stood by
the gate and held it, every morning, open.
You saw me once. You do not see me.
My talk to you comes out a backward
cacophony, the chattering of crows
in the field’s distant sycamore.
You do not see me. You do not
see me. No monument
you’d ever recognize. A flutter.
A spring hinge. A flush
of violet above tough stalk.
A line of char in the soil.
A catch, in your lungs,
of cold air. I am. I could be.

Love, oh love, oh careless love


Fucking can’t stand when I
slice a grapefruit to an uneven
split. For this small fault, I’m cursing
myself even while I replay the scene:
my student comes red-rimmed
to me and starts to spill—
her work unfinished, her essay
(Bradbury’s images of innocence
and corruption) not started. She’d found
a lump. A surgeon would have to cut.
She was scared. She was sorry, her work
unfinished. I did not curse her small fault.
Forgave it. No matter that essay. No curse
for her, only for me—the cockeyed cut
of the grapefruit—while my son,
couchbound in mother’s arms, roasts
with his third day of fever. Unable to walk.
Tottering more than usual on new legs.
And after long today, a third night
I will hold him, wailing him,
him destined to small faults—
the broken glass, the crayoned wall—
soothe him with song and hands
until he falls asleep. Until his body
is limp and small, unhearing
of song, unfeeling of hands.
All this—but a grapefruit, ruby,
tropical and paradisiac ruby,
split like I can’t fucking stand,
two halves uneven, grossly,
no small fault, cursing myself,
me, me, careless me. No
proportion. No poise. Careless,
careless me: have I taught
the girl better than I’ve taught
myself? And have I loved
the boy better than I’ve loved
myself? Which is careless (me)
love. Which is no love at all.
Two cops hover over a group of boys
who have their feet spread and their hands
pushed up against an azure-tiled wall
outside the Blue Jay.

One of the twins is in the lineup,
and when I see him, I stop short
on my way to the trolley. The twins’ names
are DaVon and DeVon,

and the older one is bigger, say the neighbors.
But I can’t tell them apart, and not when one twin
passes by without the other. I just know
they both go by Von,

and I can’t go wrong. The drunks congregating
around the scene mumble that the cops
want the boys against the Blue Jay for a rash
of Avenue stickups.

I can’t understand that. Whichever Von this is,
maybe he’s into bad shit off the street,
but on the street he calls me, Mister Iain,
and when he says it,

he looks me in the eye. The other Von too.
The worst they’ve done in my sight: throw
empty liquor bottles onto the train tracks
below our blind alley.

Nothing I didn’t do as a kid. Nothing
I haven’t seen grown men do. And I never
saw it happen again. The smaller of the cops
standing over the line

is still a big, bullnecked guy, and when he orders
Von to turn around and face him, he also shoves
a shoulder blade, spinning the boy forward.
I see Von see me,

and say, Leave him alone—he’s a good kid,
and the other cop, the real big one, stares me down
as if he just witnessed me smash and grab
in broad daylight

and can’t wait to slam me into the concrete.
I back up farther into the crowd, which has grown
as people waiting for the always-late 15 trolley
join the drunks.

The smaller cop starts barking at Von and his friends.
I can’t hear their responses, can just see them shake
and nod, shake and nod until, with a final push for Von,
the cops let them go. The friends split

in different directions, a pair of them north up 29th,
a pair east on Girard, and Von by himself to the west.
I wheel around the crowd and think to catch him up,
but he’s moving fast,

and I can see the trolley car at the 31st Street stop.
I call after him, Von, you okay? And he calls back,
Yeah, Mister Iain—I’m okay, but he doesn’t turn
to look at me, keeps his head

cocked down and walks toward our street.
When the trolley creaks to the corner,
he’s halfway down the block. I climb the stairs,
and drop in my token,

which hits the other coins in the fare box
with a dull clink, metal on metal, like the jangle
of cuffs a boy doesn’t register as he goes
from cracking jokes

with friends to rammed against blue tiles
and the wall.