My first poetry book recommendation of the year is Alan King’s Point Blank, published in 2016 by Silver Birch Press. A three-time Pushcart nominee, King is a Caribbean-American poet, the son of immigrants from Trinidad and Tobago. His family roots give his poetry a robust and celebratory quality, whether he’s writing about the spices of home cooking, the seductive musical soundtrack of his parents’ marriage, or the father-son dynamic of power struggles and wordless affection. King appreciates women’s sensuality in a way that reminds me of the late great musician Prince, an unashamed desire that has enough reverence in it to avoid objectification. Yet certainly the life of a black man in America is far from idyllic, as King shows in his powerful narrative poems about racist microaggressions and police shakedowns. His relationships with his family and students sustain his life force in an environment that is ready to dehumanize all of them.
Point Blank is a pleasurable read that is also an important document of black American life today. He kindly shares two poems from the collection below. Visit his blog for poetry videos and essays on social issues.
On the bus in rush hour, he enters
with the brim of his baseball cap
over his left ear, where a snubbed out
Black & Mild sits like an aromatic
marker with its black tip exposed.
You checked the weather today.
Cloudy skies with a chance of rain.
Your boss called you into his office,
talked about the economy and running
a struggling paper, how he’s got to let you go.
Think of it as a paid vacation,
he said. You look up at the guy
with the Yankees cap and phone to his ear.
I’m on my way, babe.
His smile says his destination
is a garden hidden in a labyrinth,
where the sun slides its iridescent tongue
over a tamarind-colored woman,
oiling her skin while she sleeps
among orchids and birds of paradise.
You imagine that garden
on the other side of your front door,
where you’ll open like morning glories
when your wife
descends on you like dew.
A man sits handcuffed on the curb
while his trunk and back seat are searched.
You watch from across the street,
heading to your car. His woman
was making a Malaysian chicken dish, sent him
to pick up coconut milk and curry.
It’s night. The sound of car tires
on wet street makes you think of paper
torn slow in long strips.
The officers, thorough in their search,
remind you of thieves you once saw.
You couldn’t say what you felt,
watching them take their time,
as if instead of searching for money and CDs
they were detailing the interior.
The man is every WANTED poster
you saw on TV, in the papers,
in post offices.
He is that night years ago.
When you followed your mom to return a rental,
and lost her in traffic, when the red and blue
flashes made you
a cornered cat.
You tense up when that moment
on the street gets just as close. Your keys
in one hand, sorbet and cookies in the other.
At the sight of what flashed in his mirror,
he knew he was tagged in a game older
than Jim Crow. Tonight, the sirens
and police lights say, Get off the street
unless you want trouble, too.
But the wind shoves you down the block,
muscling you back to your car
and to everything you love. You think
of the handcuffed brother
and his woman growing restless,
trying not to worry.