poetry quarterly

10th anniversary

FIRST BOOKS ISSUE

Alan King

 

HORN

The more I watch the news,
the more my country resembles
a biblical city destroyed by fire;

the more I think of those
who spat on the messenger
their God sent them. At the gates

of a temple called “Beautiful,”
sat a blind man. How many of us
are him? Sometimes there’s no name

for what runs the streets with
misspelled picket signs and hate
as its bullhorn. Sometimes

what’s wrong with this life
could be an avalanche ready
to wipe us out. The only true Bible

might be your open arms. Your name
is a communion wafer on my tongue.
The only true psalm might be

what washes over us while
we sleep, your breath in my ears—
the sound in a shell.


CHAGRIN

When security escorts a woman
back to the register, you hear
other shoppers whispering
their speculations—the alarm’s

tone before plainclothes officers
flank her at the door, their hands
beckoning to come with them.
And does it matter that

you both are among the few
African Americans in a department
store that once forced Blacks
to shop in the basement, and where

Jim Crow banned your elders from
the dressing rooms? Can all
the civil rights marches and integration
keep you from flinching

at how one of your own
is handled—the officers
jerking their suspect around,
the woman shouting

for them to take their hands
off her. And afterwards,
will anything make this right
again—the gift cards

or the cashier’s apology
after waving the receipt,
explaining she forgot to
disarm the anti-theft device?


CRAVINGS
after Tim Seibles

Follow the trail of bones,
and they might lead you
back to a city block
of busted hydrants—

an area scattered with
bodies gnarled like gummi
candies and the licorice
of twisted metal from

uprooted buildings.

When I stomp, streets are
Graham crackers crumbling
under a child’s fist. I’ve chomped
my way, like Pac Man, through

fast food chains; I am

a bi-coastal gopher eating
his way across America,
my brain hijacked by hunger
whose demolition tendencies
send me on a feeding frenzy—

overturning police cruisers,
swatting at helicopters
buzzing around
like dragonflies.

 


HIGH NOON

A storm's been gathering
on the Horizon for months now.
—Nathalie Graham, "But, Rosa"

Clouds gallop across
the aerial frontier. 13 years old.
A cowboy with pants pockets

for gun holsters. I slingshot stones
at the heads of flowers

and do my wishbone walk
into the horizon like the heroes
in Westerns after slaying

bad guys. I could be
Don Quixote rushing

at what I think are monsters.
Friends say the real ones carry guns
and shiny badges.

Dad says my mind’s loose
as rope. Might use it

to lasso the sun.
Hogtie it to a cloud stallion
and ride, and ride.

 


AT SELAM'S
for Tosin

My heart might have been
a candle the way it flickered.
We were in a club below U Street
dancing to Afrobeat.

Wanted to say those three words
that night. You painted
your face with white dots along
your nose and forehead.

All I knew of you then
could fit inside the head
of a flame. And I might’ve been
a lantern glowing from what
I wanted to tell you.

But those words were lost
in the roll of your hips when
you lifted your hem to the side
as if what pulsed from speakers
bared its horns before charging at us.

They were lost amongst silhouettes
knocked around by the rhythm;
lost in a room of dumb bodies
the DJ jerked like a puppet master.

That night you grinded my back into
the brick wall and took my tongue
the way a tsunami overtakes
a small boat.

That night I was haunted
by worst-case scenarios—
a needle scratching
the vinyl record,
its waxy silence.

 

 


Alan King is the author of Drift (Willow Books, 2012).  He teaches part-time at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts and is senior program director at the DC Creative Writing Workshop at Charles Hart Middle School.  King is a Cave Canem Fellow, an alumus of the VONA Workshops sponsored by Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation, and an MFA candidate in the Stonecoast Low-Residency Program at the University of Southern Maine.

Willow Books, the literary imprint of Aquarius Press, specializes in literature by writers typically underrepresented in the market. Reprinted by permission.

 

Published in Volume 14:1, Winter 2013.


To read more by this author:

Alan King: Museum Issue
Alan King on Charles Simic: US Poets Laureate Issue
Alan King on Karibu Books: Literary Organizations Issue