Palling Around

Gregory Pardlo

He heard in curtains of sleet cleaving
from magnolia leaves encrypted Aztec
frequencies, he said. When the sun
god liquors loose each ashen tongue
the planet tattles. We are advised
to listen: this he'd grunt to signal his

dwindling fuse and the bartender would
show him the door. In his honor I tune
my form to the emanations of this vibrant
life: Either someone's dropped a blue
coin and I've picked up the murmur of its
ribs—a quarter kiltering beneath the blond

brick arcade of the whispering gallery
at Grand Central—or someone's table
is ready. No matter that I set my phone
to airplane while I thumb these lines, I can
still be reached by tender thought: a dirgeful
brass cortège stirs the ear inside my chest.

The man has passed. I got the text today,
and now feel at least obliged to observe
silence. Observe this café thick with humid
bodies, mugs wafting florets of breath, steam
revealing patterns in the glassy chatter.
For that he is a phantasm rumoring now

a timeless doom, quiet as the carousel
of a partial print. For that he is finally
transcendent. For that we convened for
drinks by some clockwork of urban chance
each week, my year adrift in the East Village.
For that I renounced him, and now regret

having done so. For that I vibed with his
passions—more, the deeper we reached in
our cups, rifling our mind's files for magical
thinking and secrets in our blood's chemical
record. I've traveled years through boot-black
redactions of thought to find his apparition

greet me with a raised fist in the dream of a
leather trench coat that crunches like gravetop
snow, dream of the self-schooled on secondary
sources. He hung a cardboard pyramid to cover
the bed in which he slept and quested visions
toward the headwaters of paranoia: nightsweats

of tar, drumbeats marooned in the distant hills,
Legba tapping his cane on the edge of sanity.
If you see something. What a fear of hobgoblins
and philistines can blind our better senses.
At the table beside me children play mosquito
tones they say are there, but I am unable to hear.

Last updated December 12, 2022