for the hyphenated and addendummed
I am not yet dead but have been dying
at an unknown speed for some time
and so I have already made peace
with the end of anything. I am not sad
or surprised, but am growing indifferent
toward those who are indifferent toward
me, loving them passively and maybe
stupidly from a distance keeping us both
safe in our own minds, though one of us
is lying the way they are dying unknowingly.
Were it not for the anthem before the game
and my muscles refusing to forget, I may not
have found a heartbeat at all, which I took as
a sign I should live, abstain attention to the
red stain on my shirt that will, at some point,
dry, though maybe not before these beautiful
bones that have framed my entire existence.
The Star of the Violence
Isn’t it funny how, in your head,
it’s always you getting threaded
by the bullet? Filleted with
the pocket blade? Jumped?
Beat with the two-by-four and
Louisville Slugger? Set on fire?
Pulled over and parked inside
a fresh grave? Isn’t it funny
how that ain’t happen to you,
not once, how it was just some-
body that looked like you,
that never occupied the same
place at the same time as you?
Because if they had, or you,
that would mean something
different entirely. Entirely
different: you, a dead body
that looks like somebody else
elsewhere writing about how
it hasn’t happened to them
but could, scared that it will,
paranoia about blood running
in ovals around their brain
as one year becomes another,
the planet completing its spin
around a god-thought, a star
bleeding light instead of blood.
As though my blood and body were made of midnight champagne,
the thought bubbles to the surface as clear as a tiny crystal ball of
carbon dioxide: this year, I’ve decided, I will not see color, because
by now it is undeniable color has darkened the whole damn world.
The light’s elocutions are nothing but lies my eyes have gathered
as gunshot after gunshot after gunshot goes off in the ghettoes
and I swallow God like a sweet pill so that I may sleep relatively
easy. Wake up without an ache. Poach eggs, pet my dog, pack my bag
and get to work on time. Make my money―
MY money, that I earned,
that I take home to all I have on the brink of collapse in the tremors.
I say earthquake, you say backlash: whatever, really. These TV
talking heads talk so much these days you’d really think the sky is
falling, and if it is, or if it does, then it falls straight into the partisan
blue sea and it’s all the same to me―
looks all the same to me,
this year. If you ask me if that’s smoke or cloud, I’ll say cloud;
if you ask me to watch the video and decide guilty or innocent,
I couldn’t choose confidently, but I feel I’d bend toward justice.
Cortney Lamar Charleston is the author of Telepathologies, selected by D.A. Powell for the 2016 Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize. A recipient of fellowships from Cave Canem and The Conversation Literary Festival, his poems have appeared in Beloit Poetry Journal, Gulf Coast, The Iowa Review, The Journal, New England Review, POETRY, River Styx, TriQuarterly and elsewhere.