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Published: Tue Jul 1 2008
Eva Lundsager, Were now like (detail), 2021, oil on canvas
Second Line

I put on a Mingus record, Blues__and Roots, after my grandfather died,
and rummaged through an old wine box

that held family photos. In my favorite,
Granddad is on all fours, playing the pony.
I’ve fallen off his back, into the tall grass

of a Maryland yard, and sit cross-legged
near him. My memories of this, the jazz
swept into them—I began to think what I like

about the best of Mingus: that the players,
confined by music, keep probing,
trying to puncture form and song,

the way a wire hanger in a garbage bag
stretches and tears at the black plastic.
The musicians run their fingers and tongues

along the bars that separate sanity and chaos, meaning
and unmeaning. On that album, Jackie McLean
led the charge. To me, he was mostly ink in liner notes,

the man jazz cats called Jackie Mac. I knew only
that he shared my grandfather’s name, that his sax—
I loved it, threatening to surge beyond the orbit

of Mingus’s bass—and that his playing narrated
my sadness. But Jackie’s alto wasn’t all mourning—
deep in his tone, a joyful second line: in the photo,

Granddad’s face was broad and fixed with laughter.

Iain Haley Pollock lives in Philadelphia and teaches English at Chestnut Hill Academy. He earned an MFA in creative writing from Syracuse University and is a member of the Cave Canem Workshop for African American poets. (updated 7/2008)

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