Theater Selfie

Gregory Pardlo

At the Richard Rodgers Theatre, I shrank my face to the box

office window and confessed to the Lucite’s voice-vent

that I’d told my wife a lie. I had hidden no Christmas gifts

in the basement, nor yet acquired tickets to Hamilton

for my youngest as I’d boasted I would. The ticket

guy pshawed and, like a chilly neighbor, acknowledged me

                        enough to punctuate his snub.

But the seat map online, I pleaded, showed several vacant dots

in March. No seats, he snapped, and we went on like this until

I looked it up on my phone. Those? He snarled, you can’t—

His pause—its meaning irretrievable now—was heavy with

the ghosts of Broadway’s sins. It was as if a voice offstage

was force-feeding him the line: You can’t afford those.

His cheeks ripened to prove he’d heard it just

as I’d heard it, but that, for once maybe, he’d heard it in the way

that I’d heard it. Just then, his eyes were houselights

making me suddenly real. The veil had fallen between us,

and we two stood outside the magic. We were our only audience.

As one trained in this hackneyed improv, I knew that I might

dress the specter of his fear in comedy to save him. I needed

to draw him out of his head. You got kids? I asked.

He nodded, but I needed to hear the emotion in his voice.

What are you gunna do, huh? I laughed. It’s like, what do you want

from me? Am I right? And he mirrored me, shaking his head:

The things we do. He asked if I could bring my kid next Tuesday.

Hells yeah, I said, to prove that I could stay in character, though

I wasn’t sure where he was taking us. He bent to root

beneath his desk. Then the Lucite spit two miracles

he must have set aside for someone else. The selfie

we took that day tells a partial story. You see us, all teeth

and safe as bros. You see me holding the tickets like a peace sign,

but you could never guess the price we paid to get them.

Gregory Pardlo is Co-Director of the Institute for the Study of Global Racial Justice at Rutgers University and visiting faculty at New York University Abu Dhabi. His poetry collection Spectral Evidence is forthcoming in 2024.
Originally published:
September 18, 2023

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