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Sugar Shack

Alan King

after Ernie Barnes and Edward Hirsch

Looking at Sugar Shack by Ernie Barnes
in early November, I stared at women
whose backsides curved like hooks. The men,

snapping their fingers and stretching skinny
limbs, could be a school of fish swimming
among anglers. They existed in a world of oil

and canvas. They danced as if it was the 1970s,
the decade my parents emigrated here from Trinidad.
U.S. soldiers were already dying in South Vietnam’s

rice paddies. My mom wore a white dress
with a train. A rice cloud followed my parents
from the altar to church doors. I was

looking at Sugar Shack, staring at women
dancing, as if something burned down their spines
like a flame on a wick. I walked through the frame

of the painting where Marvin Gaye’s banner
hung from the ceiling the way a sports jersey’s
hung from the rafters. I walked through the frame,

as if crossing the threshold of a house.
Marvin Gaye’s singing through cracks and pops
on a worn 45. A woman who sounds like my mom

is laughing at a shadow shaped like my father,
then the sound of springs moaning. Marvin cracking
and popping his serenade. The 45 spins

like I imagine a soldier’s mind runs a reel of death
over and over. The 45 moans like the lovers
in the next room, giggling while they made me.

I was looking at Sugar Shack, staring at women
whose jelly-rhythms left men ogling, as if toddlers
learning the shapes of things, having forgotten

their names. I walked through the frame
of the painting and thought I saw my parents
single, staring at each other through the crowd.

Alan King

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