Crooked Smiling Light

Gregory Luce | Scene4 Magazine

Gregory Luce




Alan King, author of two previous collections, Drift and Point Blank, continues his explorations of Blackness, family, parenthood—including sonhood—and food. The joys and terrors, the angers and loves are all presented clearly and unsentimentally.

The collection begins strongly with a dream in which the poet dreams of besting his father in a fist fight, the father who belittled and threatened him throughout his childhood and even into adulthood:


"He has an appraiser's eye

for spotting the worst in everything—

like the party you and your wife hosted:

your home full of good food and friends,

everyone fed and happy

except your father, who complained about

your wife's shorts being too short:

how it was inappropriate she bent

at the waist instead of at the knees.

He complained about your barking dog…."


("In Your Dream")

This poem demonstrates the vividness of King's descriptions that the reader will discover throughout the book along with his strategy of referring to himself in the second person, a practice that allows a certain distancing, thus avoiding the potential sentimentality that poems like this can engender.

A poem for Nelson Mandela, "Counterpunching," continues the boxing motif as a metaphor for the South African freedom struggle:


"Courage is a pattern

of quick punches, rippling change

through the hemorrhaging skull

of injustice."


More tenderly, King speaks of preparing for the birth of a daughter with both fear (previous attempts at childbirth ended in failure) and joy:


"I stood in your white room—the black window

trim and floorboards, the Espresso dresser and

crib watched me fold your onesies,

watched me contemplate the country of fatherhood,

where experience alone won't grant you citizenship…

"If there's one thing waiting taught us,

it's that patience is the currency

of anything worth having.

So I rub your mom's tummy to

feel your elbow, then your fist—

grateful for the light inside."


("The Light Inside")

The echoes of old family tensions are revealed in current intergenerational struggles. For example:


"When you watch your mother-in-law holding

your child after you told her not to,

you know how your wife felt that first night home

from the hospital, when your parents came by and

could only seem to unload their criticisms

on how she handled her child….

"When your child's grandmother takes her out

of her crib, you take your child back, say:

"I love you... but I got this."


King, the son of a Trinidadian immigrant father, is sadly, of course no stranger to racism. In "The Journey," the poet describes the experience of being the only Black people in a restaurant—an experience no doubt all too frequent:


"The two girls, laughing as they ran through

the Drummer's Café, stopped at the sight

of you and your wife, the only Black people

in the restaurant that night.

When you remember the patrons' darting

eyes at your wife's dreadlocks, the way

the hostess smiled past you to the white family

she seated while you waited…."


Crooked Smiling Light is a short book, only 18 poems, but it is rich with life stories of family love and conflict, the sting of racism down generations but also the ability to endure and transcend it, the joy of good food, music and poetry. King, a resident of Bowie, Maryland, is one of the DC area's finest poets, drawing praise from the likes of U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo and Maryland Poet Laureate Grace Cavalieri. I can't recommend it strongly enough.


To order the collection, go here:

https://www.planbpress .com/store/p62/Crooked_Smiling_Light_by_Alan_W_King.html

To learn more about the poet and to order his previous books, visit his website:



One more (I promise) shameless self-promotion for my latest book of poems, Riffs & Improvisations, whichis now available from Kelsay Books and Amazon:

https://bit.ly/3vqkE0H (Kelsay)

https://amzn.to/3G1lFBb (Amazon)


Happy Holidays!


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Gregory Luce | Scene4 Magazine

Gregory Luce is a Senior Writer and columnist for Scene4.
He is the author of four books of poetry, has published widely in print and online and is the 2014 Larry Neal Award winner for adult poetry, given by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Retired from National Geographic, he is a volunteer writing tutor/mentor for 826DC, and lives in Arlington, VA. More at: https://dctexpoet.wordpress.com/
For his other columns and articles in Scene4
check the Archives

©2021 Gregory Luce
©2021 Publication Scene4 Magazine





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