NPM Curated Poem 14: Gregory Pardlo’s “Double Dutch”

Gregory Pardlo won the Pulitzer last year, so it’s probably not a surprise to you that he’s a good poet to read.  I thought I’d include a poem from his earlier collection, though, to show that his musicality and wide-ranging consciousness were present in the last book, too (from


Double Dutch

The girls turning double-dutch
bob & weave like boxers pulling
punches, shadowing each other,
sparring across the slack cord
casting parabolas in the air. They
whip quick as an infant’s pulse
and the jumper, before she
enters the winking, nods in time
as if she has a notion to share,
waiting her chance to speak. But she’s
anticipating the upbeat
like a bandleader counting off
the tune they are about to swing into.
The jumper stair-steps into mid-air
as if she’s jumping rope in low-gravity,
training for a lunar mission. Airborne a moment
long enough to fit a second thought in,
she looks caught in the mouth bones of a fish
as she flutter-floats into motion
like a figure in a stack of time-lapse photos
thumbed alive. Once inside,
the bells tied to her shoestrings rouse the gods
who’ve lain in the dust since the Dutch
acquired Manhattan. How she dances
patterns like a dust-heavy bee retracing
its travels in scale before the hive. How
the whole stunning contraption of girl and rope
slaps and scoops like a paddle boat.
Her misted skin arranges the light
with each adjustment and flex. Now heather-
hued, now sheen, light listing on the fulcrum
of a wrist and the bare jutted joints of elbow
and knee, and the faceted surfaces of muscle,
surfaces fracturing and reforming
like a sun-tickled sleeve of running water.
She makes jewelry of herself and garlands
the ground with shadows.

It’s a beautiful image, and the sonic qualities of this poem are equal to its visual interest.  Track the letter “t” through the poem–see how many lines have at least one t.  My favorite lines are “How / the whole stunning contraption of girl and rope / slaps and scoops like a paddle boat.”  I love the consonance of “slaps” and “scoops,” and those verbs are so precise that they conjure the rope turning in air.  I love that the poet makes good on the metaphor in “contraption,” comparing the rope-jumping to the “paddle boat” wheel.

YOUR ASSIGNMENT:  You have a choice–either choose one moment, one scene, and depict it as beautifully and gracefully as you can.  Nothing needs to “happen” or change, necessarily–inhabit a beautiful moment with surprising description.
Choose your favorite consonant, and write a poem that includes that consonant at least once per line.

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