Gregory Pardlo

Roller Coaster

Whenever seventeen returns, I tend to enter
on that summer and the only job I thought
could earn my patience. It starts with a dad-
darkened sky draining from the rear-view
glanced as the road’s polished grains abstract
between my legs, through the hole-
rusted floor of my ’82 Chevette. Back then,
driving to work I would think myself open
throttle on a gurgling diesel speedboat
dehiscing placid lakes and lay the engine’s
weight on gears in lieu of failing brakes
as I’d loop the ailing hatchback around
the employee parking lot. With my operator’s
badge, a rainbow shirt and pants toilet
water blue, I ran Rolling Thunder, spent
my breaks kissing a girl beneath a trelliswork
of dithyrambic rhythms. Say what you will:
rails shaking daylight like confectionery, the
urgent aspirate note in my ear shivering rungs
of vertebrae, and the ever-breathless
arc of her breasts. All of that, sure.
But what set my levels spiking were the screams
of monkeys palaced on those slopes each
morning—me the emissary sent to greet them
with my Moses staff ascending the dicey
gangways to the peaks that called the monkeys
from their homes at night, from the Safari next door.
Sometimes they sat or calmly turned their backs
and in those placid moments seemed to levitate
like swamis on the tracks until they gestured
rudely, scrammed and leapt the fence. I’d started
driving to the muddy shores of Medford Lakes
at night to swim alone and naked in the murk.
I would swim out far enough to not be noticed
from the bank and there I’d tread, zoning out
the wayward I was in, dreaming leeches
growing sanguine on my skin, boas lowering
from limbs their own carotid lengths, the arching
brows of crocodiles askim the inky scrim.
I’d cast myself like flotsam on the drink,
stare into sky the listening of my tiny lungs and ride
the pale reflected clouds and lucent fishes.