cover image Spectral Evidence

Spectral Evidence

Gregory Pardlo. Knopf, $28 (128p) ISBN 978-1-5247-3178-6

The contemplative latest from Pulitzer winner Pardlo (for Digest) explores fear as the basis for legal judgment. As Pardlo explains in the introduction, the fear-driven imaginings used by white men to condemn those accused in the Salem witch trials have been similarly employed against nonwhite people from America’s colonial era to the present. Beginning the collection with a long poem in sections titled “The Essay on Faith,” which is structured like a legal argument the speaker is having with himself, Pardlo lays bare the flimsy foundations of America’s justice system: “Dream, the via negativa that makes freedom ring. It/ is evidence of things not seen.” Other entries play on this concept of unseen evidence, such as “Sonnet,” which reproduces a table from a study of racial biases in the medical field. The title poem evokes the language of police perpetrators of violence against people of color to show how fear of the racialized “other” can be twisted to fit any legally excusable context: “Declares that on Harvest last, the Devil in the shape of a black man/ had the most aggressive face/ that his eyes were bugging out.” With characteristic intelligence, Pardlo confronts uncomfortable and enduring truths. (Jan.)