Iain Haley Pollock
Metaphysics with Poppies

I can’t understand, after years of reading, the relevance

of metaphysics. How does it account for the wants of my mind


breaking apart my body? I prefer to think of poppies,

the variety fated to bloom blood-red. Or, of planting poppies,


any flowers in truth—how they come to us in plastic pots; how

after we shovel them a place in the earth, we extract


the flowers from their vessels; how while we lower them down

into their potting hole, ganglionated roots and the dirt compacted


around those roots retain the container’s shape. I am interested

in the shape of things. Is that the relevance of metaphysics?


You know I’m hiding again, don’t you? Still the boy

between the cedar and the wedge of stone wall where, lying flat,


he cannot be seen from the first house his parents ever owned.

I am hiding because I am tired of broken promises,


my country’s and my own. I thought we promised never again

to clothe bodies, especially of children, in chain link.


But here we are. And me, I promised to jettison the anger

that howls away at those, especially the children, I mean to keep


closest to me. But here we are, anger not exorcized,

stashed instead on a high shelf, loaded and with the safety off.


I need that anger—brandishing it I feel most electric and alive.

That’s not quite it, but I cannot make the story only about me:


we would not let a woman and a man and their sons

walk across a bridge. Or, if we had, when they arrived,


we would have outfitted the boys in that broken promise

of fence. I can’t understand what we feared. Maybe


that we’d fall out of love with a country that never was

as we imagined it? Maybe that we’d fall out of love


with ourselves? The sons gathered between the woman

and the man, the four hitched arms and waded


into the water we’ve decided separates that place from

this place. As the four experienced it, swollen and churning


with a confluence of spring rain, the river was both real

and abstract. You know the resolution: water suddenly high,


wrench of undercurrent, the boys drowned. The first son

washed into a backwater matted green with reeds eroded


out of their soil. Where, downstream and returned

to the other place, the second son floated to something like rest,


soda cans bobbed with him in the shallows. As the mother

and the father could not, I am afraid that I cannot protect


my children. I use anger to keep myself, and them, alive.

This is wrong. I am wrong also to make the story of the woman


and the man and their sons about me. I made a different promise

never to masquerade in stories not my own. But I hid behind them,


their story, as I hid behind metaphysics, poppies, anger, a cedar,

and fear. I hope it matters, although I suspect it doesn’t,


that I broke this promise in good faith: their story

is not my story, but if I don’t see myself in them—the four


in the water and not on the bridge—what do I stand

in relation to? what are my properties? what shape am I in?


Found In Volume 53, No. 04
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Iain Haley Pollock
About the Author
Iain Haley Pollock is the author of three poetry collections, Spit Back a Boy (U. Georgia Press, 2011), Ghost, Like a Place (Alice James, 2018), and the forthcoming All the Possible Bodies (Alice James, September 2025). His work has received several honors including the Cave Canem Poetry Prize, the Alice Fay Di Castagnola Award from the Poetry Society of America, a 2023 New York Foundation for the Arts Artist Fellowship in Poetry, and a nomination for an NAACP Image Award. He directs the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Manhattanville University in Purchase, NY.