A permanent home and museum for poets and poetry

Poems by Iain Haley Pollock

Beth David Cemetery, Long Island 

by Iain Haley Pollock

I am the only man standing by the open grave
without a yarmulke, with dreadlocks spilling
onto the lapels of my suit jacket. Next to me
Naomi stares at her grandfather’s coffin.

Under the distant roar of jets arcing
over the Sound, three workers speak
Caribbean Spanish, hushed and rapid, and smoke
while they wait to fill the grave, their backs to us
and the wind. On headstones nearby, mourners
have set rocks, a sign of the permanence
of their loss, and of the earth. And families
have hedged some plots with evergreens
to keep other funerals from trampling their dead.

Cousin Seymour, a slight, devout man, breaks
our silence–we should be the ones to bury Jack,
not them–and Naomi’s father takes up a shovel
and steps toward his father’s grave. I back away,
onto a gravel path, bristling to think that them
is the three grave diggers, that them is us, dark people.

But while the men and boys, passing the shovels
between them, cast dirt onto the coffin,
and the grave begins to fill with the smack
and roll of dirt clods on the casket lid,
while Will, a great-grandson, struggles
to balance a load of soil on a shovel blade,

I recognize that Seymour meant them who are not
us, our family, them not fused with us by life
and faith, who do not suffer now when we
have cause to suffer. And as our family leaves
for the reception and the days of sitting shiva,
I know that when I die, our children, our grandchildren,
they will grieve for me with shovels and their hands.