Measured, I would tell the nation with my lips drawn and certain
if a correspondent prompted me to describe the widow.
As in she measured evenings in the incense I watched ash
like a fuse and once imagined her body turned to silt
wicked in bathwater. Yet puckering the sofa with elbows
and heels, she sat listening to Bitches Brew. This the time
I came collecting for the Courier, vertical blinds strobing
my view of her through the rec room window: the bare and jewel-
charmed ankle, the cable box and grape drink can.
From the beveled shoulder in her boat neck blouse to the brass ashtray,
my eyes riffled the blinds like a pack of cards and landed
on a pack of e-z widers—don’t think I didn’t know what I was clocking.
My father loved that album and lately whiled afternoons affecting
postures of one kissed by the lotus. As I rang the bell, she emptied the earth-
colored leather & chrome and crossed the room in Sergio Valentes.
I swore allegiance to her that day and no longer to the crew
of boys on mopeds who lived at the end of our cul-de-sac.
I knew something of devotion because my father made me recite
the Saint Crispin’s Day speech whenever I misbehaved. Here I stood
now on her porch thinking we few, we happy few as I watched her hide
the stash box in the bookshelf. And I thought of her husband who passed out
athwart the leather of his ’79 El Dorado still idling in the spotless garage,
home from the bar one night. She left the garage open for months
afterward and I felt guilty for secretly wishing my father dead
instead of Mr. Calvin. And in the memory of that night I included
a news crew among the ambulance and police to distract my guilt by
scandalizing the scene. I recalled this as I glanced back at the cruiser
just then passing as I stood waiting for her to answer the door.
Next thought fear: not fear for safety, but the fear I sensed in men
watching football. I had to figure passion as a form of fear since fear
was always shaken into cocktails of butterflies and bile, making it
sublime and so I sometimes wore an engine red football helmet while
riding my paper route. And because the sight from other
senses must suffice when one goes blind with fear as I did in those
awkward test runs out to balance the admixture, I scraped
the scabs of familiarity and deposits of routine associations
from the streets I plied and left the bare empirical frothing there
in the sunlight like battery acid. I imagined myself cool as five-o
behind Ray Bans and assumed the arrogance from whence
I could dismiss what the theater of my absurd knew of itself.
In my righteous alienation I chuckled at the quaintness of it all.
My new ignorance had inertia like the vices of the men
silhouetted in garages, and lifted me from my bike
by the fascinations to lead me to an apprehension of details
otherwise unsung in this here life, such as chlorinated
towels draping handlebars, lawns edged like mint
chocolate cake, and the styrofoam glider caught in a tree boiling
with evening breeze. Thus inspired, I told her I was sorry
to disturb her, as I listened to the cop car grip the sun-softened
blacktop like velcro as it tread around the bend. I said she
was pretty. She tugged two bills from a wallet and watched
me off as I haunted a Prince tune like a castrato down
the drive beneath my helmet. And even now,
I want to reach into this stanza the way she reached into
her jeans to pay me, reach in and take the rosining roach
from her fingers to shotgun a beam of smoke across her polished
bottom lip, maybe kiss her like I’d never
left home afraid it wouldn’t be there if I ever did return.
Poem, copyright © 2005 by Gregory Pardlo
Appearing on From the Fishouse with permission
Audio file, copyright © 2005, From the Fishouse