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

but snow.


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,, and 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.