Skip to main content
By Gregory Pardlo

I was born in minutes in a roadside kitchen a skillet


whispering my name. I was born to rainwater and lye;


I was born across the river where I


was borrowed with clothespins, a harrow tooth,


broadsides sewn in my shoes. I returned, though


it please you, through no fault of my own,


pockets filled with coffee grounds and eggshells.


I was born still and superstitious; I bore an unexpected burden.


I gave birth, I gave blessing, I gave rise to suspicion.


I was born abandoned outdoors in the heat-shaped air,


air drifting like spirits and old windows.


I was born a fraction and a cipher and a ledger entry;


I was an index of first lines when I was born.


I was born waist-deep stubborn in the water crying


                              ain’t I a woman and a brother I was born


to this hall of mirrors, this horror story I was


born with a prologue of references, pursued


by mosquitoes and thieves, I was born passing


off the problem of the twentieth century: I was born.


I read minds before I could read fishes and loaves;


I walked a piece of the way alone before I was born.


Gregory Pardlo, "Written By Himself" from The Best American Poetry 2010. Copyright © 2010 by Gregory Pardlo.  Reprinted by permission of Gregory Pardlo.

Source: Digest (Four Way Books, 2014)

  • Living
  • Social Commentaries

Poet Bio

Gregory Pardlo
Gregory Pardlo was born in Philadelphia and grew up in Willingboro, New Jersey. He is the author of Digest (2014), winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. The Pulitzer judges cited Pardlo’s “clear-voiced poems that bring readers the news from 21st Century America, rich with thought, ideas and histories public and private.” Pardlo’s poems, reviews, and translations have been widely published and are noted for “language simultaneously urban and highbrow … snapshots of a life that is so specific it becomes universal.” He is an associate editor for the literary journal Callaloo and teaches creative writing at Columbia University. He lives in Brooklyn. See More By This Poet

More By This Poet

More Poems about Living

Browse poems about Living

More Poems about Social Commentaries

Browse poems about Social Commentaries Get a random poem