Poetry by Cortney Lamar Charleston

State of the Union


“I see it in the American who served his time… the protester determined to prove that justice matters…”


As it stands nowright nowI want
a divorce from everything.

This isn’t some “mommy and daddy don’t love
each other anymore” angst; I was, in fact, born this dark.

I know this body isn’t safe anywhere it goes,
under any circumstance.

If an All-American heart attack doesn’t take me,
it will be a former All-American who took one too many hits

on the field, who says his prayers and eats his vitamins,
who loves his Second Amendment right first,

before all else, exercises it while exorcising a demon,
as he sees it, shooting rounds square in its heart.

Always an “it.” Always “not quite human”
when you look into my eyes

with a flashlight and find I’ve been gone for over three seconds
already. Three minutes already. Three hours already, lying

in the exact same spot on the street. How very sad. How very
sick. How very cyclical, this spinning out of control

a backlash from the far wings, a billionaire with a big mouth,
a time bomb waiting to blow in the shadows, somewhere.

And let me say this: you know nothing of gloom
until you’re mourning strangers with regularity,

going to their televised funerals, watching the first
President of the United States of your kind of citizen sing

a spiritual penned by slave-trading hands, the whole scene
a sum up: our American sins can never be paid for in full.

I would never trade my black face for Barack’s black face,
even if Michelle came as part of the deal. I’d suffocate

between the walls of power because power wants me dead
or moving decimals further to the right, evangelizing the dollar;

in my most agonizing moments, when the tumor of grief
has engorged, I joke that it’s his other half that spares him our fate

the Kansas girl with the ruby slippersbut I know it’s actually
the Secret Service, or maybe even the closely guarded secret

that ever since he told America on live television that a buried
black boy looked like the son he never had, all those growing

years ago, the president has been dead inside. And to that,
I can only say: God bless, God bless, God bless, Barry.

For I know what those hands have signed off on, what
those lips have let slide unsaid into unrecorded history:

all audio-visual broadcasted between both terms lacking
those last kernels of truth that would finally break the scale,

rather than trying to balance it backwards toward a false calm
some folks lived with but others never could. And didn’t.



Cortney Lamar Charleston photo

Cortney Lamar Charleston is a Cave Canem fellow, finalist for the 2015 Auburn Witness Poetry Prize and semi-finalist for the 2016 Discovery/Boston Review Poetry Prize. His poems have appeared, or are forthcoming, in Beloit Poetry Journal, Gulf Coast, Fugue, Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Iowa Review, The Journal, New England Review, Pleiades, River Styx, Spillway and elsewhere.

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