Because Venus lifted the Rosewater Dish like a shield
in the sun the graying father of two swatted a juggle
of balls against a playground wall that had been graffitied
for an episode of Law & Order set in the hood.
The desiccated catgut of his racquet strummed
like a junkyard harp with each gouty ground stroke.
A muscle fire stoked to warm the bagpipes in his chest.
Like a waft of charcoal in the park, there came to him
thought of the bargain implied in God’s command
to Abraham. Not unlike Robert Johnson’s deal
at the crossroads or Gauguin’s pricey escape from
the obscurity of the middle class, these appeals
to the brute motives of the blood, mortal
insecurity seeking relief in the barter for fertility,
which is to say, fame. This was the mind of the man
as he stiffened and hid his wind in a falsely barreling
chest, setting out to retrieve what may have seemed
portentous—a citrine moon descending
on the shirtless men playing handball
on the opposite court, an intrusion like a cell phone
ringing in Alice Tully Hall. Their annoyance was muted
but palpable for they, too, were performing
the ritual of their devotions. What he wouldn’t give to hear,
like a nest of hungering chicks, his flock, the epochal
cry of thousands in the stadium around Centre Court,
his name on the wind. Perhaps he’d swap it all for the boy
he once was, the future altered, and follow
some stellar herald, righteousness and treason
arcing in his mind like a halo, to risk a life
he could only begin to imagine.
Copyright © 2014 Gregory Pardlo
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books.