Albert DeGenova

Engine Running

“…if I in my north room/dance naked…/waving my shirt round my head…
— William Carlos Williams, “Danse Russe”

Embrace that which cannot
be changed
gray eyes, height,
loneliness whispering
metaphor lyrics, humming
the Danse Russe
my dance of the naked nutcracker,
grotesque gnome, who shall say
I am not the happy genius.
I am best so,
solo, sun in my face, walking
alleys, streets, forests.
Don’t hold me this way if you
don’t mean it, don’t
tempt me from my solitude
alone in the garage
smoking my pipe, blowing smoke rings
radio jazzing,
engine running

Kissing Blackface

Forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn’t know before you learned it. — Maya Angelou

Lenore, 17-year old beauty,
sexy the way Catholic school girls were sexy
in Chicago in 1973, never said yes
to any of my many invitations
but she finally agreed to be my date,
a Halloween party in my best friend’s basement —
her promise, a Playboy bunny costume.

She arrived a pillow-bellied Aunt Jemima
deep red lips and blackface.
Her joke was on me, my schoolboy crush
hung on the lip of a beer can, the guys
laughed, she laughed as we danced
under green and blue lights that couldn’t
dim her lie, her rouged lips, her fake-drawl taunts,
Gonna ask me out again white boy?
I kissed her to spite her as we sank
into an old couch. My ire was unashamed.

Her Mammie mask smeared across my cheeks
I kissed Lenore’s wide-smiled insult on the lips,
my nescient defiance of her whiteness
I kissed blackface –
and we are unforgiven.

With a focused and wide lens I search
in and out of all those basement corners repentant
yet the present tense remains a grim confessor.
I dance again and again with that painted devil,
the mortal debate
wrong becomes more wrong
and I go face to face and with my pointed anger
lay bare the shame of my own.
Cold memory
clenched-jawed in that old Chicago neighborhood
the ugly shadow still hiding just around every corner.

Albert DeGenova is an award-winning poet, publisher, and teacher. He is the author of four books of poetry and two chapbooks. His work has appeared in numerous journals including RHINO, The Paterson Literary Review, The Louisville Review, Aesthetica Magazine, The Café Review and others. DeGenova is the founder and editor of After Hours magazine, a journal of Chicago writing and art which launched in June of 2000. DeGenova received his MFA from Spalding University in Louisville. He splits his time now between the metro Chicago area and Sturgeon Bay, WI. He is also a blues saxophonist.