Adam Pollak earned his M.F.A. in Creative Writing from American University, where he served as poetry editor for Folio Volume 32 and taught in the College Writing Program. His poems have most recently appeared in Innisfree Poetry Journal, The Ekphrastic Review and Little Patuxent Review. He lives—quite happily—outside of Washington, D.C. with his wife and dog.
Photographs of water
Men and women wear flip flops and nón lá,
load baskets of fruit and rice
onto barrel-stave freighters
and smaller boats with long-tail outboards.
Growing season lasts all year.
The fruit must be picked.
Narrow houses tiptoe the river’s edge.
Mint, cyan, robin egg and French blue,
pppppthey rise out of the water;
concrete slabs on wood beams
metal poles holding rusted tin roofs.
drops a ladder into the river.
Hairy red chôm chôm. Little bananas
like bunches of fat thumbs.
We eat till we’re sick.
Twelve or thirteen year old boy
straddles the prow of his canoe,
ppppone leg in the water
up to his knee,
pulling a submerged line. More
ppppppppppppppppand more appears
ppppppppppas he pulls.
Clumps of leafy green plants
bob on the surface.
pppppppppppppppppppppunmoored for all time—
they pass into the South Sea.
When you are on the other side
you will not be like what you were
before you get through the Mekong.
The Hmong fleeing Laos were forced across
the river. Often during the night. Often
on floats made from bamboo shoots, lashed together.
As they clambered
into the mile-wide river,
soldiers on boats opened fire.
Each person on the river
fought for himself and no one else.
After the ambush,
you cannot say to your wife
I love you more than
my life. She saw!
You cannot say that anymore!
ppItalicized sections spoken by Blia Yao Moua,
ppppp(quoted in Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down)