Gregory Pardlo

for Colin Channer

“sing the Union cause, sing us,/ the poor, the marginal.”
—Robert Hayden, “Homage to Paul Robeson”


Note the confection of your body
salt on the breeze, the corn-
silk sky. Olmstead’s signature
archways and meadows. Kite
strings tensing the load of a saddle-
backed wind. This is Prospect Park,
Brooklyn, where limbs tickle
and jounce as if ice cubes shiver
along the shirtsleeves of evergreens. Pond
water whispers, and the echoes of Yankee
fifes linger in wind and in the shirring jazz
hands of leaves, and those shirts,
the skins, the human retinue converging
on the uneven playing fields. The African
drum and dance circle sways the pignut
tree into a charismatic trance as
Orthodox women walk powerfully by, jogging
shoes blinking beneath the billows of their
skirts, children rollerblading, trailing
tzitzits. Take heart in the percussion
structuring the distance like prophetic
weather, a shelter of vibrations:
the last conga note a bolt tapped into
the day’s doorframe and you are no less,
no more home here than in the corridors
you return to in your dreams. Illusory,
altogether babel-fractured, a single word
from you might bring the verdant fun-house
down. Listen like a safecracker, navigate
the intricate ruptures by ear: the Latin
patois of picnickers, the slavic tongues
of lovers replacing your mouth with self-
conscious silence. You are Caliban
and Crusoe, perpetual stranger with a fork
in the socket of life’s livid grid,
stunned and bewildered at the frank
intrusion of the mosquito on the hairless
back of your hand. You are stranded
at the limit, extremity and restriction,
jealous for that elusive—the domestic, yes,
you’re thinking: not the brick and mortar, but
the quickening backfill of belonging, the stranger-
facing, the neighbor-knowing confidence and ease
with the ripple that diminishes as it extends
over the vast potential of immovable thirst.
You are home now, outsider, for what that’s worth.


Last updated December 12, 2022