Alan King is a Caribbean American, whose parents emigrated from Trinidad and Tobago to the U.S. in the 1970s. He’s a husband, father, and communications professional who blogs about art and social issues at alanwking.com. He’s the author of POINT BLANK (Silver Birch Press, 2016) and DRIFT (Willow Books, 2012). A Cave Canem graduate fellow, he holds a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the Stonecoast Program at the University of Southern Maine. He’s a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee and was nominated three times for a Best of the Net selection. He lives with his family in Bowie, Maryland.
I wanted Bananas—
a bunch of them spooned body to body
like small yellow kayaks. So I missed
what you said about the war
in Libya. When you say Gaddafi,
I think of how they spoil
if they sit too long
on their wicker thrones.
We’re in my car, listening
to WTOP. We passed a Spanish market
that calls what I love platanos.
Just saying plata-, my tongue snaps
like the slingshot’s elastic strip,
hurling A’s like stones.
You complain about the weak radio signal.
I could nod and punctuate your frustrations
with hums, as if I’m listening,
as if my head weren’t full of Hunger’s S.O.S.
I could pretend that the radio static
is annoying, as if the sizzling sound
it makes doesn’t have me thinking
of sweet, chunky rhombus slices
frying in my mother’s skillet,
or plantains boiled whole
with dasheen, dumplings
and potatoes to eat with salt fish
and coconut bake—
plates and plates
of large bananas, edible boomerangs,
nature’s golden sugar-filled tusks,
the moon’s waning frown
or waxing smile.
In a mob of school kids,
two boys shove each other
before they’re on the ground.
They jab at air and grass,
missing the jaw, cheek and eye.
A girl standing at the edge
screams at the boy
straddling his opponent.
Leave him alone, she says.
This won’t make me like you.
I watch from my car
across the street
after cruising through an old ‘hood,
two decades removed
from my childhood.
And yet this gust spirals
the pinwheel of memory,
whirling me back to third grade,
when I obsessed over Tia Jones
the way my friends swarmed
the ice cream truck for grape Pixie Stix.
She was a sixth grader, who mistook
my lamppost legs and power line arms
for a fifth grader.
She was as old as the boys
throwing grass in each other’s hair,
rolling around in a kind of awkward
tango towards manhood.
Watching the chubby kid
overpower his skinny enemy,
I’m reminded of Darnell,
an older boy too short for Tia.
That’s when I wonder
if Insecurity’s the biggest instigator.
The one constantly egging you on
to prove yourself,
like that day Darnell kept asking,
Why you so stupid?
It was the day I gave Tia
a Valentine’s card I made
with construction paper
and magic markers.
She kissed my cheek,
her lips flipped the switch
to the streetlights inside me.
Why you so stupid? Darnell said.
He shoved me. You so stupid
you don’t even speak.
Tia’s fingers locked with mine,
Let’s get out of here.
I didn’t speak when he snatched her card
and tore it, when I unzipped my bag,
pulled out cleats, and smacked him.
I was a nest of wasps.
Each cleat stung him
over and over.
A woman’s yell calls me back
across the street. It’s the neighbor
on her front porch, wearing
a blue tattered housecoat
and flappy pink slippers.
She holds up her phone,
and the crowd scatters,
Y’all need to stop! I got police on the line!
I wish I had someone like her
to save me from myself
before Darnell’s tears streaked
over welts big as bee stings.
Tia nowhere in sight.
Combing the bargain bin,
a woman, who’s not your wife,
brushes beside you — asking
if the Roy Hargrove CD you’re holding
is any good.
She’s close enough for you to smell
her ginger-patchouli body wash.
The angle she gives you
in her leather bomber jacket —
the one unzipped, showing a white tee
retracing her athletic stomach and arms —
the jacket, with its collar flared,
makes her a tuberose blossom
booming its honey dew-scented tune
along her neckline.
And your father’s voice,
from two decades before, warns you
about gorging on everything you see.
You were 16 the first time
he told you, when your hunger hovered
like that summer at Myrtle Beach —
sistas strutting the boardwalk
beneath a honey barbecue sun,
whose sweet light made each of them
a long stretch of marinade, a chromatic
scale of flavors along which
your tongue was burning to play.
And isn’t Temptation always lurking,
eager to hold our Common Sense hostage?
You tell the flower woman you’re married
after she points to a flyer for a Roots show
and says y’all should go.
When she says “are you happy?”
you remember a brotha once asking
how you could love one woman
when the world’s a buffet —
the possibilities of pleasure
laid out like jumbo crab cakes,
lasagna rolls, and buffalo wings.
What’s gluttony, if not a symptom
of our own hunger consuming us?
Wasn’t Jack as careless, selling
his sustenance for a handful of beans?
You remember the story
of the stalk that almost made him
a hungry giant’s grub.
You still hear the pastor preaching
about gluttons wearing the rags of drowsiness,
which is how your wife found you
stumbling through the days.
Your life before her was a string-less violin,
a dark garden of wilted sunflowers, a camper trailer
rusting against a moldy brick wall.
You were once a city of power lines,
boarded up clock towers, junked cars
and blazing drum barrel fires.
What she saw in you, only her heart knows.
Just like it knew you’d leave the temptress
back at the listening booth watching
the automatic doors close behind you.
At 16, you thought all there was to living
was filling your appetite — too young to know
love is the everyday meal,
that the lack of it kills quicker
than the absence of food.
DRIFT (Willow Books 2012)
POINT BLANK (Silver Birch Press, 2016)