Four Improvisations on Ursa Corregidora

Gregory Pardlo

after Gayl Jones

My husband Mutt backhanded me down the fire
escape out back a blues bar called Happy’s. Nothing
holds a family together like irony and a grudge.
Depends on what you call family. What’s left now
of the generation I hadn’t known I made is just a scar
squoze shut like a mouth that won’t eat, a score
where doctors had to retrieve the fetus, its tub
and my plumbing altogether. Now I’m soundproof,
and now I’m forever hollow as a plaster statue.
Just as I can’t go back to where my mothers cast
me out to flatter their memories chiming, echoing,
braiding the wind with their eccentric melody, Mutt
can’t come back to me no more. I can picture him though
harassing the shadows of my voice, drunk as a judge.


My husband Mutt handled the hose that doused the fire,
the reason I can’t make babies. I’ve claimed the blues
is a current like electricity, but mine was a combustion
engine cutting shapes out of noise. Lying at the bottom
of those stairs I could already feel my machine slipping
into pictures of still water. I began swallowing water-
melon seeds by the handful hoping something take root:
a vine, a silence. I was reborn at the crime scene;
I survived the rent in time to look back on it squeezing
shut like a fist. A refrain: echolalia: bad penny: menses.
Evidence of a pattern we are determined to reveal
when we find ourselves standing before the judge.
Evidence of the devil we’re determined to reveal
when we’re testifying for the jury and the judge.


My husband Mutt stared back down the barrel of his years,
came up loaded and hapless. I was determined
to take him in spite of my history, to refrain from adding
to the pattern emerging from the rueful chorus: my mothers
cast me as amanuensis to record their versions
of the crime. Once upon a time means once and for always
and for wherever you are and now I’m singing blues
in a bar revealing as much skin as you should
be willing to reveal when you pouring your seed
into the electric element. We are given two names:
one to work like witness protection, and one to carry
mechanically to the grave. I never took my husband’s name.
I imagine that would be as useful as a newspaper covering
my head in the rain. Useful as letting my eyes be the judge.


My husband Mutt handed me back all the love he felt
I had failed to give him. That’s saying something close
to nothing. “Do nothing til you hear from me,” he said,
and smiled. Whoever owns these blues is a matter
of some debate. The story of my people unfolds
each day like a newspaper detailing the catechism
that connects me to history: Are you hurt? Yes, I am
the hurt, the silent mouth is the barter. What’s a husband
good for? Seed money. Generations working the fields. Why
do we make dreams? A little ritual. A little lining for the purse.
each song is a number of the seven veils: each number is
a revelation of skin measuring degrees of distance from
the crime and from the guilt of the crime. Corregidora:
as much kin as we’re willing to reveal lest we be judged.

Last updated December 12, 2022