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Problema 4

At thirteen I asked my father for a tattoo.

I might as well have asked for a bar mitzvah.

He said I had no right to alter the body

he gave me. Aping what little of Marx I learned

from the sisters down the street who wore torn

black stockings with Doc Martens, I said

I was a man because I could claim my body

and the value of its labor. This meant I could

adorn it or dispose of it as I chose. Tattoos,

my father said, are like children: have one,

you’ll want another. I knew there was a connection

between the decorated body and reproduction.

This is why I wanted a tattoo. Yet I reasoned,

not in so many words, his analogy only held

in the case of possession, i.e., I possess my body,

but can not possess my children. His laughter

was my first lesson in the human Ponzi

scheme of paternalism, the self-electing

indenture to the promise of material inheritance,

men claiming a hollow authority because,

simply, their fathers had claimed

a hollow authority. Knowing I had little

idea as to what my proposed tattoo might

resemble, my father sent me to my room

to sketch it using the pastels he had given me

for Christmas. Based on his critique, he said,

he would consider my request. But he had

already taken the shine from my swagger.

How can I beautify what I do not possess

and call it anything but graffiti? Chris Rock says

my first job is to keep my daughter

off the pole. Whether or not I agree with him,

I get his point. As a father myself

I now see every mutinous claim of independence

as the first steps toward my sweet pea’s

falling in with a bad crowd. Richard Pryor

says we are bound to fuck up our kids

one way or another. My father would

split the difference: I made you, he’d say,

I can un-make you, and make another one

just like 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.