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
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:
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