for Ernie Barnes
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, were 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
swing and slide, as if a flame slithered
down their spines. I walked through the frame
of the painting where Marvin Gaye’s banner
hung from the ceiling. I crossed the frame
like the threshold of a house. Marvin Gaye’s singing
through cracks and pops on a worn 45.
A woman who sounds like my mom
laughs at a shadow shaped like my father,
then bedsprings moan. Marvin’s serenade
cracks and pops. 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 turned men into toddlers
learning the shapes of things, having forgotten
their names. I walked through the frame
and saw my parents single, staring at each other
through the crowd.