Gregory Pardlo
The Essay on Faith




While sound and seaworthy, I confess a life of false

confessions, false hearts, ample contempt for bench

warrants charging me with failures to appear.

Let what interest death’s elbow grease won’t erase

compound, judgements sealed in my ova, my oeuvre,

my juvie, and on Q-tips scribbled like rice grains with

the starshine of my stem cells. Yardsell my cracked

hourglass, my salt-crusted astrolabe, my maps

of the lunar seas. Collect my student IDs, my employee

discounts, my almost-winning scratch-off. Take my voice

mails from the clouds. Dismantle my altar to Walter

Mercado, phrenologist of the stars. But stay memory,

time’s plagiarist. Stay poem, spare tire for memory.

Stay reader, beloved, prosthesis for the soul.





In 18th Century France, Franz Mesmer made friends 

dance in synch like iron filings under the magnetized 

tips of his Mesmer fingers until further experiments 

proved to move the crowd he’d only need his Mesmer eyes. 





From bandshell to boathouse to the shores of Empire Blvd.

the lindens’ scent of fidelity flanked the Botanical’s glass womb.

Two cats crooned tea kettle falsettos like soul-stirred

buskers swinging acapella mellowed on a fifth of Thunderbird.

Solo, sneaker soles greased with the ginkgo fruit’s perfume,

I found the 9th St. relief of Lafayette at ease, his lowered sword,

the steed and Armistead, enslaved hero spy who, obscured

by horse and history, doubles agency like a nom de plume.

The Marquis adored him, however screwfaced and off-kiltered

Armistead’s depicted. Could they’ve been lovers, I wondered

of a sudden? Could Armistead consent to jump the broom

and camouflage his bondage? In the picture, yet off the record,

he’s Lafayette’s prisoner no less if Love were his parole board.

Faithful as a terracotta soldier, he sports a hard rock costume

to picnics and playdates. Who marries a black man must guard

more than their love, his body taken, in this city’s orchard

of bad apples, for sport. Slavery made him a family heirloom,

the very booty he was denied. Instead, he claimed as war-reward

Lafayette’s name. His freedom came at the hand of the Lord.





Studies show that after castration a man can experience joy

in his Cyrano, the pet name I imagine clinicians christening

the strap-on. Or Pinocchio. Any of the phallic fables where

the nose denotes a fallacy. Devoid of funk. A rootless longing,

gravity without ground belonging to that appendage existing

like sorry/not sorry, a cartoon limb someone has sawed off

offering support for that person to sit on. I’ve often mistaken

love for the object of love and been left with a study

in possession. An earlier draft of this poem claimed ecstasy

is muscle memory. I’m of a new mind on this and now feel

ecstasy is a being-beside-myself uncanny as when I’ve slept

a nerve pinched in my arm and woken to find it’s but the warmth

of an egg in a basket of sand long as that storied summer of love,

long as the word that likewise dulls in time to a fist-bump,

periodically needing to clear its cache to regain vitality, to restore

the heft of declaration. So much to unlearn: old selves and my

narcissistic attachments to them. I pull them from the roll and miss

the perforations. This is life with regret, an infinite regress.

A joyless repetition. A mess of produce bags on the supermarket floor.

I’m clinging to earlier drafts, intimate as chalk outlines, screen

burns, they surface when I hot-breath the mirror. I sit and reflect

on those pronouns wrestled from time and their tether

to a masculinity they believed was a part of the body. What joy if

I could only forgive them. If I could love them, if I could just

let them go.





True in the control room at the large hadron collider. 

True at a candlelit séance in a Storyville bordello.

A hunger anticipated is no less a hunger, and desire 

stayed by whalebone and lace is magnified by the silence 

of our lord. True like the face of an ingenue

embedded in a dowager’s demure. True as the miracle

tones chorused from the planet Proxima

Centauri and the whale they call 52 Blue. True

as the judgment of a vengeful mob. Memory foam, wet

concrete outside a high school. Silly-putty takes up

the news: True the form the thinking assumes that becomes

the object of the thought. 





We say “black bodies” when referring

to the iconography of racism. No one would body


slam a child, but stand your ground against a black

body and the courtroom says amen. Affirmation


active in the witness’s fuzzy memory. The black

body is not a person per se. It is the American


Dream, the via negativa that makes freedom ring.

It is the evidence of things not seen.





Like the ancient Scythians I believe to see is to send spittle- 

like rays that grapple an object’s cosmic

elements and resemble them in the sweatshop

of the eye a process not unlike tasting with

the nose the hollandaise that surfs a heavy sigh

a measure of telepathy a distance


relation that buckets up from the soul a spitting image

The spirit in the Queen’s magic mirror was enslaved there

         Siri tells me According to Jesus adultery

with the eyes is adultery          Men see says John Berger

As if I need only observe an English muffin

to find its fore-texture printed on my tongue to prove


the tactility of the eye             that lemony emulsion

amusing your bouche, too, sudden jets of saliva

at mention of the lemon-butter’s pinch              Don’t think

of French kisses   According to seventeenth century slave

codes imagining your enslaver’s death was a crime punishable

by death     I’ve stopped looking


for progress and misplace my glasses at the hint

of truths I don’t want to see and pat the bench around me

my chest and hips as if I might vanish                Ancient

Scythians blinded prisoners of war to mark them as slaves

A visible distinction      The eyes     The tongue Mon

semblable watch me unlock my phone with my face





Dear Joni, you’ve said love is touching 

souls. If I reach out to yours now in extromission, 

will you register that singularity in the cosmos 

of your affection? Will you feel my soul touching 

yours just as surely as you’ve touched mine? 



Found In Volume 51, No. 03
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Gregory Pardlo
About the Author

Gregory Pardlo is Co-Director of the Institute for the Study of Global Racial Justice at Rutgers University, Camden. He currently serves as visiting faculty at NYU Abu Dhabi. His poetry collection Spectral Evidence is forthcoming in 2023.