Preface to a Photograph —Delano, CA 1976

Poet James Cagney finds the richest words to describe a moment among family.

poet, james cagney
James Cagney

three Black men
spooned from the same bowl
stand embracing in my father’s mobile home

the lightning flash of them frozen
in the amber of 1976

their rhyming saw blade eyes
sparkle like lit matches

men don’t smile, but they are happy.
arms interlocked long as the interstate

it is night

in every room where my father stands,
there is a river

here a hot river of oilsweetened with perch
laps the drawn curtain

three Black men
blues singers of borderless ache


the mahogany concentration
of my father’s 10,000 mile highway stare

Cousin J.D. in a 1970s plaid juicy fruit leisure suit

And their great-uncle Iley
a human spear in a tweed flat cap
chin up and flaring like a knife

Oakland native James Cagney is the author of Black Steel Magnolias in the Hour of Chaos Theory, winner of the 2019 PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award.
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