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Problema 3

The Fulton St. Foodtown is playing Motown and I’m surprised

at how quickly my daughter picks up the tune. And soon

the two of us, plowing rows of goods steeped in fructose

under light thick as corn oil, are singing Baby,

I need your lovin’, unconscious of the lyrics’ foreboding.

My happy child riding high in the shopping cart as if she’s

cruising the polished aisles on a tractor laden with imperishable

foodstuffs. Her cornball father enthusiastically prompting

with spins and flourishes and the double-barrel fingers

of the gunslinger’s pose. But we hear it as we round the rice

and Goya aisle, that other music, the familiar exchange of anger,

the war drums of parent and child. The boy wants, what, to be

carried? to eat the snacks right from his mother’s basket?

What does it matter, he is making a scene. With no self-interest

beyond the pleasure of replacing wonder with wonder, my daughter

asks me to name the boy’s offense. I offer to buy her ice cream.

How can I admit recognizing the portrait of fear the mother’s face

performs, the inherited terror of non-conformity frosted with the fear

of being thought disrespected by, or lacking the will to discipline,

one’s child? How can I account for both the cultural and the inter-

cultural? The boy’s cries rising like hosannas as the mother’s purse

falls from her shoulder. Her missed step from the ledge

of one of her stilted heels, passion loosed with each displaced

hairpin. His little jacket bunched at the collar where she has worked

the marionette. Later, when I’m placing groceries on the conveyor

belt and it is clear I’ve forgotten the ice cream, my daughter

tries her hand at this new algorithm of love, each word

punctuated by her little fist: boy, she commands, didn’t I tell you?

from DigestFind more by Gregory Pardlo at the library

Copyright © 2014 Gregory Pardlo
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books.

Published in Gregory Pardlo Poems

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this (publication, website, exhibit, etc.) do not necessarily represent those of the Idaho Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.