The Poetry Section: Three Poems by Gregory Pardlo

by Mark Bibbins, Editor

The Poetry Section

Three-yes three!-poems by Gregory Pardlo.

Aquinas: The mover gives what he has to the one who is moved in that it causes him to be in motion.

Jumping often refers to something you’d rather not
get involved in, but when you’ve left the parking
lights on overnight, a jump can mean the difference
between being employed and not. Worse than having
to buy a swipe from a stranger on the bus is having to flag
a neighbor for a jump. People willing to defibrillate
flatlining cars on ice scraper mornings are like organ
donors and subway heroes. For karma like that you need
a Winnebago covered with solar panels sprouting a fountain
of jumper cables so you can spend your day suckling
weary vehicles like an electric wet nurse. By your example,
thugs would soon measure their cred by a tattooed lightning
bolt under the eye to symbolize each battery they have
sprung back to life. Soon gangs will jump-in initiates one
toothy clamp at a time, and civilians will jump all over each
other with reciprocal gifts and hugs, finding power where
power is given, a residual lifting of the spirits in the act.

Occam: Every body has an impetus which allows it to continue to move. Being moved is passing from potential to the act.

You often size up the random demographic holiday
traffic makes hoping to see yourself inside a picture bigger
than the neighborhood you know. But the knots of cars
strung in rows like Incan quipu ordain your destination for
they script your possibilities in the Nielsen lingo, abstracted
from ad copy instead of the tangible planet. So who is really
driving the soapbox you find transporting your thoughts while
you inch the highway like the Pope’s bubble-mobile? Lines at
the toll plaza are a poem where you idle in this way, mindless
as Sonny Corleone. Every procession ends in a funeral. Think
of the chain gang of reindeer and the tiny hands making toys
in Santa’s maquilas. Will you spend the whole poem reading
bumpers and vanity plates, concerned how they distance you?
At the end of this poem full of furtive glances will you count
yourself among the seers or the seen? No one sees you sleeping
but your wife, and for her you thought of nothing. Look how little
you give of yourself. How little of yourself you have been given.

Gassendi: ambulo ergo sum.

We labor to maintain them in the macadam fields around
Pep Boys, where legs dangle from the maw of upraised hoods
like tailfins draping a pelican’s beak. We can say about cars
what Jefferson said about slavery when seeking pity for his
hardships. “Like holding a wolf by the ears.” Talk about
awkward. Yet it’s for domesticating horses that he charges
Europeans with “the degeneracy of the human body.” Perhaps
we are all, like him, exhausted by our compulsion to be free
from carrying our weight, human to heap our load on some other
burdensome body we’ve subordinated to our sloth. Who could go
on schlepping the lanes flanking Eastern Parkway beneath plane
trees as trumpets from dollar vans blow Dixie? Few haven’t caved
to the runagate’s dream of those chariots come to carry us home.
Hasidim fill the streets Saturdays with ambling demonstrations
of civil-resistance. James Meredith trod a shoulder in Mississippi
for freedom. We may all go someday Pan-like marching, transported
by the rapturous clopping of the only two hooves we can own.

Gregory Pardlo is the author of Totem (April, 2007). He is recipient of a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship and a translation grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. He has received other fellowships from the New York Times, the MacDowell Colony, the Lotos Club Foundation and Cave Canem. Pardlo is an associate editor of poetry for Callaloo, and an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at George Washington University.

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