Sugar ShackAlan 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.
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