2015 Balocating Prize for Poetry: “Memorial Day” by Connor Yeck

April 29, 2015

Congratulations to Connor Yeck, a Senior in English and the winner of the 2015 Annie Balocating Undergraduate Prize for Poetry! Yeck’s poem “Memorial Day” was selected by guest judge Carolyn Forché and presented during her reading at the RCAH Center for Poetry on April 22, 2015 in Snyder-Phillips Hall. The Balocating Prize is an award of $500 for a single poem submitted by an undergraduate student at Michigan State University. Started in 2010, the award is in honor of Annie Balocating, a poet and alumna of the former ROIAL program at MSU.

“Memorial Day”
by Connor Yeck

We were washing graves at the edge
of June. Veterans, my father had said,
handing me pail, rag, twist-tie throat

of plastic peonies; family we mustn’t
forget, even here, the way-back-simple-
sticks of Hart, Shelby, Newaygo & Irons.

So I go to metaled spigot, swatting gnats
& potter wasps, half-proud, half-angry
at a weekend spent with dust-dull acres,

stern watch, stone-chip fields of knotweeds
& shagbark. Rubbing slattered bird filth,
I rinse those men in granite, marbled boys

who’d seen Belleau Wood & Saint Quentin,
the pined Hürtgenwald, till he calls me restless
across the day. It is near-time for lunch,

he says, & so opens the fish chest—fried
chicken cutlets, sweet rolls, iced-necks of soda
for the both of us. We eat in silence, crushing

chiggers, spotting sun-pricked pillar tombs beyond
a bank of hedge. I ask if we might turn on the radio,
& he says no, it is disrespectful to those passed,

(as if it might shake them back to living sense).
Rather, he tells me of work, though I am young,
& uncaring—how I can go to the Dow plant,

like himself, or the carom factory if I so wish.
It makes me ill to think of fall bowling leagues
& company picnics, shouting in the Polish bars,

& for a moment, I hate him, a thing kept hidden,
loose, & careful, yet what he must’ve known, going
to the nearby fence line where curled, sun-spry

buckwheat had begun to overtake. A farmer’s field,
next-door. Brown-green runnels filled with migrant
workers. He calls to the nearest & three appear.

Cuánto cuesta? he asks, so loud and fool-clumsy.
The men hold up sky-burnt fingers. A few creased
bills, & they are gone, off to blue-bent buckets

on an endless, running turf. I am given the clutch
of asparagus, ribbed & gritty, a baton-like thing
of morals, perhaps. I expect him to say how young

they were, working on their knees in gingham aprons,
pulling, plucking, proud; how they’d be glad to clean
old graves for an afternoon, have something to drink.

But instead, he simply says, eat, & I do, tasting loam,
wet musk, the raw-keen bite of insecticide as he tells
me Oceana County, despite its meager size, is this-
that, crop capital of the entire living world.