CINDY E. KING
Only in America: On Being Turned Around at Don King's Estate, Ashtabula County, Ohio
1. I can’t get the eye water to cry with
A king was but a king in Cleveland: city
of doctors who don’t spank
cries into newborn citizens but hold them
instead to windows, where the eyes first
open to a landscape the color and weight of cement.
Listen: hear their cries
just below freight trains and sirens,
beneath crabgrass pushing through gravel and ash.
2. From the streets to the suites
Who could say if his house was built on Iron and Sugar,
if forty acres and a wife could be had for two fists, fingers curled
into a happy family of pain?
Midas, magician, forever spinning
moth-chewed mittens into golden gloves…
Student of Superior and St. Clair, a quick study
he was of hunger, hope, and despair
crawling their sidewalks and standing in gutters.
From peanuts to pies, numbers
to nightclubs, swiftly he was schooled in running,
learning the speed by which the business
of booze and brass bands becomes one of blues,
brass knuckles and blood.
Who knew of a second Caesar's Palace,
one that grew out of nothing
but bluster, swagger, and cigar smoke,
as if he blew a bit of Las Vegas
to the woods of Windsor, Ohio?
Windsor, whose gardens host bouts
of depression and spiders spar
with flies, where a squash blossom opening
can be considered a main event.
Snow collects Corinthian columns,
rides the white split rail to pass the winter time.
He too could vanish into whiteness,
like a pinch of salt
in a mountain of flour,
hide his nakedness here
among concrete deities—
Apollo, Ares, Aphrodite—quiet
as a clock face, dressed in nothing
3. I didn’t serve time. I made time serve me.
My mother is a nurse
from the waist down, white pants,
shoes that mushroom the feet, that mute the self
for the sake of the sick and sensitive,
and silence one’s potential for noise.
With what grace she clears the divided
lunch trays children have flooded
with chocolate milk.
My father, too, is clinical, white coat
making him the only doctor to ever wear a hair net.
Scalpel swapped for a cleaver, he has seen his share of blood—
For thirty years he has been breaking down
sides of beef, pinning smiles
to his lips before slicing pastrami
into gory handkerchiefs for the ladies,
women who bring them to their eyes
and through them, demand to see light.
He punches the clock, no matter how often, how hard,
time delivers the knockout.
4. My magic lies with my people ties
Five people in my family,
As fingers on a hand in a fist—me, the prodigal
in reverse, stainless and sterling
at first, but rusting into self, like a switchblade
slung from a speeding car,
Butcher-princess, crown-roast coronation, complete
with self-bleeding crown—blue-collar blood pulsing
at wrists and temples,
my skin is too thin of a disguise.
Rustbelt self, flyweight words buzzing in a glass
jaw, lacking the strength to support a house
heavy with thought:
I am the lead that blames the alchemist for failing
to make it golden, the little finger
that in time must learn to be the thumb.
5. You don’t get nothing from sleep but a dream
Behind the wheel I am dreaming, directionless, fifteen miles from my childhood
home. I am lost under cloud cover, its white reach
spanning the distance between our families—
My Civic does its duty, wheels spinning in your driveway,
seeking traction in gravel, the grit of your success:
the blood you've spilled, the men you’ve killed,
and those you have saved...
How you forgave the steel that failed our fathers,
forged it into the Spirit of Ecstasy,
who rolls open darkness,
making way for Wraiths and Phantoms
Cindy E. King’s work has appeared in Callaloo, North American Review, African American Review, Cimarron Review, Black Warrior Review, American Literary Review, jubilat, Barrow Street and elsewhere. Her poems can also be heard at weekendamerica.publicradio.org, rhinopoetry.org, and bhreview.org. She has received a Tennessee Williams Scholarship from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and the Agha Shahid Ali Prize in Poetry from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, she currently lives in Lancaster, Texas and is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of North Texas at Dallas.