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It’s Important I Remember That in Order for White People to Study My Life They Must First Study My Body—

once my muscles harden in a manner I’d have hoped for

as a teen thinking it would dissuade death from trying me,

they will slip their fingers into every opening they can find

still wet with young wine and take pleasure in knowing this

is not a body that belonged to a real man. And though not

what they’d call woman either, written in cursive or calculus,

it is undoubtedly some woman’s body of work—mother, sister,

lover—tossed hastily in the trash bag. Cause of death: the usual.

Time of death: on time, like an act of God. Local press is present

just outside the operating room doors with only the most pertinent

questions for those people with the untold shame of loving who

the body used to be.

_________________How poor were his grades in grammar school?

Did he smoke weed or just sell it? On a scale of fast to insanely fast,

at what speed did he veer toward violence?

_____________________________________The story writes itself

into the fiction of history unless the homies still here don’t allow it by

lending evidence to an eloquence of living on my part, pointing them

to my private papers, to the drafts that keep my promise evident to

the larger world because I ultimately couldn’t without a physical form.

In the end, once they dig through my records and come up with

nothing but a few paid-off moving violations, they’ll discover that

I didn’t lack control in my life as they assumed; I lacked control over

my life. I could’ve had a J.D. and still lacked jurisdiction; somebody

close to me told me I had the juice and then I ended up getting juiced.

A tragedy. A regrettable mistake. A wake-up call.

__________________________________________In eternal sleep

I have the option of counting the bullets like sheep over and over or

counting the sheepish in all the sleepy towns so obviously I’ll do both

and make my peace with the very state of emergency somehow being

less than urgent. Funny. My time here was too short but now I have all

the time in the world to make my mark.

_______________________________________Mama, I’m going

_______________________________________to be a scar.


It’s Important I Remember That a Current Event Is a Current—

carries a charge, attracts the opposition’s glee _____or anger

to the anonymous comment section. ___Of course, the current

state of affairs flows through me entirely, ___ ____twists static

into my hair: _______to say 60% of the body’s weight is water

is to say I’m especially sensitive ____to the latest scandalous

headline, not shocked in the least but ___ ____an electric field

of hard feelings, ____ repelling people regardless of intention.

My connection to the world is __ ____loosening by the second.

The things I should be wired tightly to ___ ___my grip has

been softening on since they killed him ______ the first time.

I could burn a house down in seconds ____ with the wrong

spark, with ease. _ ___Someone like me happens every day.

My country is a house divided against itself ____so perhaps

that is the one to go up in smoke ______when a housewife

tries to toast ____a slice of whole grain bread in the suburbs.

What a shame that would be, _____what a quiet misfortune:

all anybody would’ve needed to do ______was check on me

once in a white moon, ________give me a good hope to hold

on to again. The fix seems so easy and yet ___ __the concern

so far from mind. _______The American dream has long been

to own a home that you must ________maintain, therefore you

own this catastrophe _________waiting to happen in the wall,

the thing you never knew you were ________wishing for: me,

aflame, bringing it all down ________to where I feel most days.


CORTNEY LAMAR CHARLESTON is the author of Telepathologies, selected by D.A. Powell for the 2016 Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize, and Doppelgangbanger, forthcoming in Fall 2020 from Haymarket Books. He was awarded a 2017 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation and he has also received fellowships from Cave Canem, The Conversation Literary Festival and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. Winner of a Pushcart Prize, his poems have appeared in Poetry, The American Poetry Review, New England Review, Granta, The Nation and elsewhere. He serves as a poetry editor at The Rumpus and on the editorial board at Alice James Books.


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