Epistemology of the Phone Booth, by Gregory Pardlo

I found the scrap of City Paper
classified, the 1-900 number and photos
like candidates there, in love’s voting machine.

Discomfort station. No pissoir. Hothouse maybe for
a fourteenth-year sprig: me. Light box
to slideshow the introvert
cloaked in a prepaid identity

discreet as a shirttail in the fly.
Ma Bell’s shelter
was brutal & snug. I’d heard the ram’s horn hum.
A hymn. Just like prayer I thought. No answer.
Clack’d the splendid tongue
and bloom!
Salutations rose like pollen, prepped me for
the inverse of police
sketch artists, the one who would evoke so I could render,
in my mind, the enigma of the wanted; one to source
the vacuum wrenching stutters like rivets

off my tongue.
Plink. Into the sewer of the mouthpiece.
Then the universal ballad of the waiting room.
Hold (me) music.

No orgone
closet. More like that other-lonely doom—the body
encapsulated, its inventory ever unknown. Dantean vestibule.
Anti-chat room.
When the genderless voice beyond
began to lavish I grew ears all over,
inner ears
swiveling from one tepid libretto to the next
tuning for some satin frequency the culture
promised until, I repent (forgive me father), the card went bust.

Atlantic City Sunday Morning, by Gregory Pardlo

Plow-piled snow shrouded
in shadow from the abbreviating sun, snow
frosted with the exhaust of tour buses. Pigeons shift in congress.
Sun glints windshields & chrome
like cotton blooms in the monitors. Surveillance here is catholic.

From cornices cameras oscillate like raven-heads
nestled along palisades. Cameras mind entrances,
pedestrians, traffic,
the landscape from land’s end to Baccarat Boulevard. I tend
the security station, notice briefly among these half-dozen screens,
a phantom looping through the busy breeze-way & out

of view. Unseasonable sparrows mating? Something
clutched like a gambler’s fist, keening a halo from daylight
folded across the corridor like gift-wrap.
Little tumbleweed, if you are sparrows, you are bishops
of risk wrestling toward pain’s bursaries. Jake and angel I believe

I could have conjured that woman now entering
the asphalt current to protect you. Mira! she might be saying. But
she’d be speaking to me. Waving her cashier’s apron against traffic,
through the street like a banner out to where
her good deed is witnessed. Out to where I interpret her behavior

as censure. As if the pixels of light depicting the world she is framed in
were impastoed by me to the monitor’s glass canvass (to
be arranged
according to the obligation of my anonymous nobility),
what good could I do
to alter the facts of the world as it hustles around her?
What odds

do those birds stand to chance anyway?
Prevention is akin to greed. Say recovery
and a sermon salts the air. Consider the postcards here
on the counter beside me. They’ll do no more than carry the
word of their
senders, speak pictures: Jersey’s domed capital looks like a junkyard

of church bells, a reliquary of Sundays
wracked and laid to rest. Noble martyr, Trenton fears no law
of diminishing returns, says it “makes,
the world takes:” Another prays the next wet pebble
be the one that makes a beach. Paydirt. We should be so lucky.