Two Poems by Cortney Lamar Charleston
for Shamiya Adams
And it darts across the street with the speed
of a rumor’s shadow – a dark and discreet beast
about his size, small configuration of bones
that he is. The curious child points out the source
of his startle to his father, who rubs out the
flame of his nervousness with his hands. It’s just
a cat. It’s probably a stray that doesn’t have a
home. And the boy nods, because he gets things.
Attaches the word stray to the animal with a
few drops of Elmer’s glue, asks if it will ever find
a home someday. I think it will. Gravitational
pull between bodies is fate even God can’t alter.
Remember, he married her not too long ago.
Wife worked for the post office, had a route out
south. The two of them had a baby recently,
too. So sad. And he hears another voice bounce
off the wall: how’d it happen? And the reply
in a firm whisper: it was a stray. Little boy does
the math with his fingers. One in place of
another, stray for mother: baby gets a new cat,
but the milk eventually runs out for both.
Numbers apparently do lie about their weight.
It happened right there on Jeffrey, I think.
Came clean through the window while they
were driving – nearly took the child out
the other door still in the car seat. Little boy
watches his nature specials; knows that
felines can pounce. He’s not sure why they
are surprised. He does the math with his
fingers. One in place of another, stray for a
child: the parents get a cat to keep, sleep
straight through the night, but morning will
come and the applesauce goes to waste.
Nine lifetimes go by and it still isn’t touched.
Ailurophile: a lover of cats. They have cats
in their hearts, cats on their minds. Cats in
their most fragile places, anywhere that is
soft enough to give at the slightest pressure.
That’s where these critters always seem to
retire – in the warmth of child, of woman
that couldn’t bear to see something as tiny
as a cat be left out in the cold. This is what
the little boy tells himself, what everyone
tells themselves, to avoid constructing fear
of the places they call home, of the hissing
that loudens in their ears as it nears them,
of a gun-shot bit as sharp as the center of
a cat’s eye: being pierced as if by its stare.
Self-Portrait as a Tea Bag
Submerge: to harmonize with others under
some banner, a symbol on which to place
the prepositional phrases of belief in, faith in.
And the congregation sings wade in the water
as I cleanse within an ocean-apparition;
distorted by a wall of liquid, sound the mouthing of the
word whale inside my four-year-old ears,
the whale’s voice being the frequency of waves history
is written in to be forgotten
more easily, if even heard at all.
For that moment, I am lonely the way God was lonely
after flooding the earth for the sake of
better. As I float,
the pool begins to blacken as though I am several
tea leaves rolled in a white robe. Pastor’s
prayer silks in, through, and out of my body, getting
it clean of the word nigger before I have ever
heard it in the context of my type of darkness.
As in the darkness of skin. As in the darkness of souls
inside dark skin; I see the water further
shading around me. I have to resist the temptation
to drink all the sin I inherited back into myself,
it being reflection to the comforting Southern brew my
granny keeps refrigerated at all times, that my
granddaddy gave me as a baby instead of milk.
Back then, what it meant to be called sweet by
a church crown: this boy is full of everything
my diabetes can’t handle,
everything my blood has tried to erase.
It was the reason I was raised in a church,
why any Richard Wright novel of a child
is raised in church, especially in a city where gun
and God interchange on the revolve of person
and what rests in their chambers of heart.
And either way, their circle will say
we baptize you my young brother, in the name
of the Father, in the name of the Son, in the name of
the Holy Ghost. Either way, make amen.
Cortney Lamar Charleston lives in Jersey City, NJ. He is an alumnus of the University of Pennsylvania’s performance poetry collective, The Excelano Project, and a founder of BLACK PANTONE, an inclusive digital cataloging of black identity. His poetry has appeared in Rattle, Eleven Eleven, Folio, Chiron Review, J Journal, Kweli Journal, Winter Tangerine Review, CURA: A Literary Magazine of Art; Action and elsewhere. He has received nominations for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net.