Written by Himself
I was born in minutes in a roadside kitchen a skillet
whispering my name. I was born to rainwater and lye;
I was born across the river where I
was borrowed with clothespins, a harrow tooth,
broadsides sewn in my shoes. I returned, though
it please you, through no fault of my own,
pockets filled with coffee grounds and eggshells.
I was born still and superstitious; I bore an unexpected burden.
I gave birth, I gave blessing, I gave rise to suspicion.
I was born abandoned outdoors in the heat-shaped air,
air drifting like spirits and old windows.
I was born a fraction and a cipher and a ledger entry;
I was an index of first lines when I was born.
I was born waist-deep stubborn in the water crying
ain't I a woman and a brother I was born
to this hall of mirrors, this horror story I was
born with a prologue of references, pursued
by mosquitoes and thieves, I was born passing
off the problem of the twentieth century: I was born.
I read minds before I could read fishes and loaves;
I walked a piece of the way alone before I was born.
Attachment: Atlantic City Pimp
Left of the @ sign the email address
was ethnically gendered with the nonce
noun sistah, which, I have to confess,
I scoffed at, thinking it was from some self-
discovering student of mine, before realizing it was
my aunt who sent the jpeg from her cell
phone. My aunt who doesn't mind
a bit of shell if it means getting all the crabmeat,
who is known to only leave behind
enough of a tip to shame the wait staff
for their inattention. The subject line read:
"AC Pimp" as if her painted nails and belly laugh
made her expert in the fauna of pimps, a soul-stirred
savant of things cold-blooded. As if she could
divine an ivory handled Derringer holstered
at his breast icing the steel heart cognate
to the gun, that twin ventriloquist of tinder
and sulfur dust, that rhythmic and delicate
organ pumping like a fist that has a knack
for snake-eyes and the superfluity of bruises
that follow every spaghetti-strapped back-
talker's doubt. She must have thought
she'd reached her brother, my father, who harbors
like a gold molar a taste for robin egg and mauve
pocket squares, a flourish of trim, a hand-stitch,
lapels check striped and foreshortened
like tyrannosaurus arms and ostrich
print Stacy Adams to match. The modest,
feathered derby contrasting all those boas
festooning street lamps and mail boxes.
But my aunt is no mere expert.
"AC" may have been a random tag,
but that word "Pimp" bore the import
of all us do-wrong men. She was, in effect,
signifying--the kind of humor that waters
the eye, the doubletalk, the shadow dialect.
Like her spite-tinged smile at a bridal
shower, her patina of derision enlivened
the photo. My aunt, who refuses to settle
for a man less Christian than she is finds
everywhere despicable men. Hence the dozens
via email, the critique, like a razor inside
a roll of twenties, the currency
of our vengeance economy. Perhaps
there was an untroubled sea
just beyond the garish casinos behind him,
a stilt-walker or mime outside the frame,
a carnival and boardwalk where the horizon
would be, and a tour bus full of people waving.
Of all the images that might speak to something
inside her, this was the one she found worth saving.
Corrective Lenses: Creative Reading and (Recon)textual/ization
A text dropped in the brain's pail rattles the way astrophysicists say they can hear the birth of time tuning the salt rim of Saturn. For example, Finnegan's Wake. For example, horoscopes, and little notes folded into cookies. The Society of Prophetic Archeologists argues all arguments are subject to confirmation bias. In this course we will venerate the subjective mind, or rather, examine how subject/object share the fuzzy circumference of a lone spotlight beneath the proscenium arch. There is no reliable narrator. For example, tealeaves or cloudbursts in the shape of ladybirds. We will interrogate the cagey and shifting sign in order to coerce all its false confessions. We will learn to project our backslashes to snatch a suffix like the fake mustache of an incognito, impose parentheses to ironize our dependence on convention. Because there are no valid means of assessment students are encouraged to assign their own grade upon registration. Any book will do: phone, face, match, bank. We will set course across wastelands of difficult punchlines under bad signs to flush the comic truth like what? a flock of starlings? a dime bag ? while we pretend a grasp of subtleties as they spiral sparkshowers like a Chinese New Year, red, gold, red, gold, red, gold.
BIO: Gregory Pardlo's collection Digest (Four Way Books) won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Digest was also shortlisted for the 2015 NAACP Image Award and was a finalist for the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award. His other honors include fellowships from 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 also the author of Air Traffic, a memoir in essays forthcoming from Knopf. Pardlo joins the faculty of the M.F.A. program in creative writing at Rutgers University-Camden in the fall of 2016. He lives with his family in Brooklyn.