Feature > Poetry
Gregory Pardlo

Gregory Pardlo

Gregory Pardlo's ​collection​ Digest (Four Way Books) won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. His other honors​ include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts. His first collection, Totem, was selected by Brenda Hillman for the APR/Honickman Prize in 2007. He is Poetry Editor of Virginia Quarterly ReviewAir Traffic, a memoir in essays, is forthcoming from Knopf.     

Asking for a Friend

My father Bacchus wrote his vows in blood
invisible as his bequests legible only
in the luminol of doubt.
             "Who do I trust" he'd spit like Tony
Montana. "Me, thass who."     He saw nothing
but a mirror.     My therapist says I make mirrormoves
                                   the martial
art of flirting compulsively a need
                        that makes me chum for stranger
danger at receptions and express stops yawning
to trance lambs unconsciously yawning back. It's not
a question of desire my silent kulning my
             rummaging landfills
of scrapped pronouns for what.

                                                  He said he
feared the candlefizz of his weakening libido.
These days I too prefer a cup of tea.

When I mansplained the Epicurean swerve
Lorraine my therapist told me something
about sublimation. I said go on I'm listening
for a friend.
In the decade since I've collected fountain pens
& swim caps sake cups glass
frogs clay pipes picture frames & thumb

Lorraine remarked that I seemed happy
acquiring vintage office supplies a hobby
             to the urge that birthed it until teensy
vampire bites pocked where I'd pounded
staples into my thighs.             And who's fault is that
             Lorraine supposed.

Desire is the object of desire.  Solve for Pi
and the hundred names of God.
Satyr and satire share the root satur
meaning full satisfied a hodgepodge
of delights all heaped on a plate by the poor
kid at the buffet.

I may or may not have collected ice
scrapers & magnifying glasses those butterfly
hatchets barbers use & the flip phones
of exlovers.

             Fidelity is a sound quality
to seek for a marriage of actuaries
down the years they risk by living
straying until final kisses blow rocker
to rocker and they nap
                                     assured metronomes
           ticking oblivion.

She said that's not a question is it.

Bacchus hung a college president
sized studio photograph of mother on his
bedroom wall. A lesser god had shot her from the waist
up and made the portrait a gift. Her raised hand left
in a fishsilver gauntlet her only attire. Bright shard
of a saber toothed toward her right hip.
Caged in frame she a shieldmaiden relieved
of masculinity the absence of which is
a presence.

     Anne Carson writes "The Greek
word eros denotes 'want,' 'lack,' desire for that
which is missing."          We dwell on empty
handedness because says Carson
the erotic is laced with hate.

Semper fidelis chant the motley zealots clean
as believer's feet gussied up in patterns of spinach
and kale. Uniforms add chains
of command the vow to shed what human remains
when time comes to suit up and die.     
Superhot who doesn't dress to make gender
fetish? A wolfloneliness fades like hearts
drawn in steam on a bathroom mirror.

           Every article
                       veils somebody's fouralarm fire.

           And tell the faithful women to lower
their gazes, and guard their private parts, and not
expose themselves to men
                                                 it says
related by family or marriage male slaves gay
men and eunuchs.        I have some questions
about this passage from the Quran but I'm scared
             to share because          well
you know.          In the Bible a proverbial husband
tells his son to fear "the forbidden woman."

Sublimating desire for someone he could trust
to hold his leash Charles Fourier sorts three
classes of cuckolds into fortynine types. Damn

Perseus could only see
                   the sublimely beautiful Medusa
as a detail in his trusted mirror. Enough already
with how women turn men's swerves against us.

What if
promiscuity refers to the magnitude of promises
required to fatten the death masks of vanishing

              The object of courtly love aka 'woman'
is a fetish cast with real people asked to dance
that haunting macabre Lacan calls the "Thing"
a voiceless incantation                         windshadow
                                                  an expiration
date.      Misogyny, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia
a few of the names we have
                                     for the single paradigm
of sublimation engaged
                        when our date fails to enflesh
                                   or refuses to stand
in the place of the vacancy and that promiscuity
gets filled in with hate.
                        The illusion "works" if no one breathes
                                               on the mirror.

                         Let's lean in and lovebomb
that erotic singularity as DeRay does in his
                                     iconic tweet "I love my blackness

           and yours."

                                                 Ortho tri
cyclen cozies log flume photo keychains &
unclaimed wedding negatives. what am I

Satyriasis? Is that even a thing.

                      They say the Bible says in marriage
we should be dependent but not needy.     Tautology
much?          In that desire is selfinterested looks at
itself Paul says to sin sexually is to sin against one's own
body.                              I believe the Bible
is wrong in many ways which confirms me
as an infidel      something I'm less afraid to admit
because Christian extremists mostly hate women.

           A blimp alights over Montana
hypes The world is yours. If there were fifteenyearold
boys in America in 1983 for whom
that enameled sky placebo did not promise
spiritual relief I would not have trusted them.

One trashpicked gilt frame hung
on my bedroom wall in college a modesty a near
companion to fill my puckish. The boys
and I would drunkrage into morning about
the statement it was and was not making about art.

Sweet Jesus now I am a gaptoothed man on the cusp
                                       of rot divesting
decoys of youth revealing scars of every broken
taboo.                          Who wants hunger fed
by faith alone?     For the record I agree with Paul
our bodies turn state's evidence against us
our leavings and residues but if my boo or whoever
were to pull a foreign follicle like a cocktail shrimp's frail
gut string from my sweater's cable knit or surmise
unresolved aromas I'd gone noseblind to they might
please consider discontent may not have been
a motive.
                         Trust is a swear jar a line of credit
extended to those most likely to default.
O Saudade       oh predatory lender
            risk is the valley I travel between want
and did.                        Heal me but not
yet.                               Stitch my wounds loosely.
Give me chastity                                   Lorraine
                         like the man from Aleppo
who knew miracle and sin are mirror images
of a broken law.

Thanks for Sharing

His fish she raked above the basin. Like
            opaline toenails blown
featherweight by the blade's bluntside,
scales fluttered the linoleum
at her feet. The fish fried, we said
grace with not a believer
             at the feast.

Crisco and liquor fume the empty
rooms in memory's empty palace. His full
name as well as why I'd often
visit my grandmother's escape
                                    me now. Mind
you, the fishman wasn't blood. From bed
I heard him cussing. Percussion said
the fishman hit her and she, it said,
had hit him back. They rearranged the furniture.
The five-year-old sunk halfway down
the stairs to see. I'm not him today, but still I hear
the boy screaming, and see her gore-grin which
I'm sure she hoped would pacify him.

Metal ice tray, a pack of Viceroys
from the carton in the freezer. Liter of White
Label & a vine-etched tumbler
beside the napkin holder on the burn-dimpled
vinyl placemat. Out of that bricolage of grief
I have built my private gothic.

Today both of us are sober and so
what. She's in assisted living, her mind
half gone. It felt like half a blind
date to visit her. My calamity, my lost time
capsule. Oldest donor to my gene pool alive.
She's a vault without a combination.

Her doom doulas found me scratching at her
                                    door, the middle-
aged grandson she'd told
no one about. I'd reconnoitered antiseptic
hallways to reach her, my Colonel
                         Kurtz, and found her face
framed by the wire mesh glass of her
wardroom door, hiding at the center
of the labyrinth. She shooed
me away as if I were a boy not worth
fattening for her pot.      Her mouth squealed
shut like a chalky faucet.
           What is your full name,
she challenged, as if that might draw him out,
the boy we had sacrificed to the monster.

Contumely for the Hyphen

Half-assed dash. Cut-rate go-between posing
as some liminal liaison. You're a bigamist
photo-bombing bright ideas. I have no opening
for you. No room for peace at the price
of progress. I'll compound and neologe without
your pseudopodal assistance, you anti-enjamb-
ment device, third strike, you cock-blocker.
My Salvadoran wife refuses to use you
as a hitch. She ditched you for caesura, forgoing
your sad math of Solomon. You mean to subtract
my nation to pieces. Every human is mixed, X/Y.
I'll live without you, and by G-d, our kids will, too.


Matthew Olzmann

Matthew Olzmann
Cow Crashes Through Roof...


Airea D. Matthews

Airea D. Matthews
When Can We Expect Payment?


Vievee Francis

Vievee Francis
Dolls, Alices, Rabbit Holes...