Alan King

poem starting with a line from Anne Winters

In close ups,  you can see it 

on their faces — triumph blossoming

in their bubble-O eyes and the "oh shit"  

stuck on confused mouths.


Drink Water laid out

across the gym tile. It started in

the locker room. Something about

Jay's mom having no neck and

how she waddles when she walks.


In high school, Drink’s 6-foot-1

and 230 lbs. made him the misfortune

of smaller brothas — tossing their backpacks

down stairwells,  smacking their heads,

tripping them in the halls.


He once bumped you with his shoulder,

then said, "Watch it, nigga!"


Watching him strut through the lockers and

benches,  punching combinations,

daring Jay to respond, you remember

the local boxer in Hands On Barbers —


sporting his gold chain and Cartier watch,  

reliving fight highlights, talking shit:


"Don't nobody wanna see these hands.

They night-night a muhfucka real quick."


That’s before a fat man folded him

at the shop entrance.


And you knew then

that heroes always cross that line

to knock the world back on balance, 

the way skinny Jay did, spilling Drink 

with a baptism of punches.



The Island of Smiles

The world once beyond the end 

 of my now inside us. Everything

we’ve lived is now part of us

—Jack Myers, "Doggies' Day Out"


Candlelight fingering   our misty limbs  

and you   nibbling a happy earlobe

makes our living room   a glad

sanctuary of plush red cushions.


The raspberry-   scented hookah

haze   makes the air seem edible.


Your spicy tongue   rolls the hours

back to us   strolling through

Adam's Morgan   and your sly smile

when you said   The birthday girl

gets what she wants.


That was after fried plantains

and beef pepper stew   egusi with fish

and white rice.   It was after us

head-bobbing to bass guitars  

throbbing reggae inside Bukom.


To think that finding you, and our life

as newlyweds, was once a world

that seemed beyond me — an island

of floating cabins   singing toucans

and water   so green

it emeralds in daylight.


I was a sad astronomer,

watching the sky and cursing

the improbable distance   'til a friend’s

invitation to hangout   got us together

that night  shuffled in the years

stacked behind us.


If every moment we live

is now part of us,    tonight,

we’re a rainy evening   and a cramped

African restaurant.


We're the storm-glazed streets

outside Bazaar Atlas — you haggling

a Moroccan merchant's price

on hand-sewn leather sandals

and sweet shisha tobacco.


We're the ride home   before

the sandalwood's burnt offering,

before the tiger's eye shimmer

on your thighs from a small flame's

broken light.

Alan King is an author, poet, and journalist. He writes about art and other issues on his blog at He’s a Cave Canem graduate fellow and an alumnus of the VONA Workshops sponsored by Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation. He holds a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the Stonecoast Low-Residency Program at the University of Southern Maine. He's a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee and was also nominated twice for a Best of the Net selection. Drift (Aquarius Press, 2012) is his first book.

Posted on June 29, 2015 .