10-honor guard alan
by Alan King

In a mob of school kids,
two boys shove each other
before they’re on the ground.

They jab at air and grass,
missing the jaw, cheek and eye.
A girl standing at the edge
screams at the boy
straddling his opponent.
Leave him alone, she says.
This won’t make me like you.

I watch from my car
across the street
after cruising through an old ‘hood,
two decades removed
from my childhood.

And yet this gust spirals
the pinwheel of memory,
whirling me back to third grade,
when I obsessed over Tia Jones
the way my friends swarmed
the ice cream truck for grape Pixie Stix.

She was a sixth grader, who mistook
my lamppost legs and power line arms
for a fifth grader.

She was as old as the boys
throwing grass in each other’s hair,
rolling around in a kind of awkward
tango towards manhood.

Watching the chubby kid
overpower his skinny enemy,
I’m reminded of Darnell,
an older boy too short for Tia.

That’s when I wonder
if insecurity’s the biggest instigator.
The one constantly egging you on
to prove yourself,
like that day Darnell kept asking,
Why you so stupid?

It was the day I gave Tia
a Valentine’s card I made
with construction paper
and magic markers.

She kissed my cheek,
her lips flipped the switch
to the streetlights inside me.

Why you so stupid? Darnell said.
He shoved me. You so stupid
you don’t even speak.

Tia’s fingers locked with mine,
Let’s get out of here.

I didn’t speak when he snatched her card
and tore it, when I unzipped my bag,
pulled out cleats, and smacked him.

I was a nest of wasps.
Each cleat stung him
over and over.

A woman’s yell calls me back
across the street. It’s the neighbor
on her front porch, wearing
a blue tattered housecoat
and flappy pink slippers.

She holds up her phone,
and the crowd scatters,
Y’all need to stop! I got police on the line!

I wish I had someone like her
to save me from myself
before Darnell’s tears streaked
over welts big as bee stings.
Tia nowhere in sight.

PHOTOGRAPH: The author as a 5th grade patrol.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I can often write anywhere; I don’t need a set location or environment to write. I do both longhand and typing when I’m drafting a poem. Since I don’t carry notebooks, what’s worked for me is the Evernote app, which lets me compose a piece on both my smartphone and laptop. If I start on one device – say, my laptop – while I’m out, I can jot down additional ideas or stanzas through the app on my phone. The app syncs across devices and allows me to pick up where I left off. I’m also learning to be patient and sit with the poem, waiting for the right moments when it whispers to me: What about this? Have you tried that? That’s where surprise and discovery comes for me.

alan king

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alan King is an author, poet, and journalist. He’s a Cave Canem Fellow, and an alumnus of the VONA Workshops sponsored by Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation. He holds a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the Stonecoast Low-Residency Program at the University of Southern Maine. He’s a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee and was also nominated twice for a Best of the Net selection. Drift (Aquarius Press, 2012) is his first book.

Author photo by marlene hawthrone thomas