Published on Academy of American Poets (

Epistemology of the Phone Booth


                         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.


Copyright @ 2014 by Gregory Pardlo. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on August 5, 2014.

About this Poem

“Eve Sedgewick’s Epistemology of the Closet inspired me to look for another symbolic medium of sexual consciousness, and I found myself writing an allegory of awakening using the ancient vehicle of the phone booth. I see the kid in the poem as a kind of Baudelairean Quixote coursing electric distances in search of love.”

—Gregory Pardlo


Gregory Pardlo

Gregory Pardlo's second poetry collection, Digest (Four Way Books, 2014), received the 2015 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry and was shortlisted for the​ 2015 NAACP Image Award.

Date Published: 2014-08-05

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