Charleston, Cortney LamarWebsite
Cortney Lamar Charleston’s debut full-length poetry collection, Telepathologies, was selected by D.A. Powell for the 2016 Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize and released in March 2017. He was awarded a 2017 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation as well as fellowships from Cave Canem, The Conversation Literary Festival and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. Charleston is originally from the Chicago suburbs. He completed his undergraduate education at the University of Pennsylvania. His academic background, coupled with his upbringing spent bouncing between Chicago’s South Side and its South and West suburbs undoubtedly influence his written work. Charleston’s poems grapple with race, masculinity, heteronormativity, class, family, faith and how identity is, functionally, a transition zone between all of these competing markers. Charleston’s poems have been published in a range of literary publications, notably POETRY, New England Review, Gulf Coast, TriQuarterly and River Styx.
Melanophobia: Fear of Black
How the moon, sometimes, is a scythe of hard enamel,
sign that somebody may be left better-headless in the dark.
How the threat’s description is always bigger than
the actuality, panic a hallucinogen ringing its own alarm.
How a teenage boy becomes a bull, a tough cut of muscle
to cut down, too much to handle—a man thinks, tickling
a trigger, pathogens atmospheric among the airwaves.
The deepest violet has bloomed: the police are on high alert.
Home security systems have loudened with consumer
demand. Parents in suburbia are turning down the music,
locking up their liquor cabinets and wine cellars, placing
tracking devices inside their daughters’ cars. The city wheezes
a swaying of water-stained glass against the sky, always on
verge of shatter. Telecommuting is the only way of traveling
to good work. Somewhere, in a factory near the graveyard of
locomotives, gears continue turning undeterred by the friction
of bodies—sacrifices ground to dust while trying to stop them
from telling lies of time and progress. Everything came back
around to where it was before. There’s a hunt going on—not for
witches, but female kinds of canine; corrections has an abundance
of cells available, and all those state-of-the-art circuit boards
still don’t put themselves together: it’s said there hasn’t been an
operating system developed that performs as well as they do
under intense heat, flesh be damned. And it is: looks hellfired.
originally published by The Missouri Review
How Do You Raise a Black Child?
with a nod to Claire Kageyama-Ramakrishnan
From the dead. With pallbearers who are half as young
as their faces suggest and twice the oxen they should be.
Without a daddy at all, or with a daddy in prison, or at home,
or in a different home. With a mama. With a grandmama
if mama ain’t around, maybe even if she is. In a house, or not.
In the hood. In the suburbs if you’re smart or not afraid of white
fear or even if you are. Taking risks. Scratching lottery tickets.
Making big bets. On a basketball court. Inside a courtroom.
Poorly in the ever-pathological court of opinion. On faith. Like
a prayer from the belly of a whale. In church on Sunday morning,
on Monday, Tuesday and every other. Before school and after.
In a school you hope doesn’t fail. In a school of thought named
for Frederick Douglass. Old school or not at all. With hip-hop or
without. At least with a little Curtis Mayfield, some Motown,
sounds by Sam Cooke. Eating that good down-home cooking.
Putting some wood to their behind. With a switch. With a belt
to keep their pants high. Not high all the time. On all-time highs
at all times until they learn not to feel and think so lowly of
their aims. To be six feet tall and not under. With a little elbow
grease and some duct tape. Sweating bullets. On a short leash.
Away from the big boys on the block. Away from the boys in blue.
Without the frill of innocence. From the dead, again. Like a flag.
originally published in Beloit Poetry Journal
In Theory, We Are All Human
Not a simple thing, no. Not to be taken lightly. To be
understood, and I do, that is, get the theory of you:
integral of human possibilities. The theory of your body
as a familiar machine, like mine, like something that
hums while it works a skin together where there had
been a rip before. The theory of skin, of its color
and discolor. The theory of your blood and bones,
like mine; your eyes and lashes, like mine; your nose;
your mouth, full of ocean, like mine. The theory
of freedom, which I take to be a naked feather,
dancing, almost like a hammock, back and forth, back
and forth in the passing wind. The theory of God
as asymptote and the theory of love as limit, the two,
tied together inside my head by a math problem.
The theory of law as inequality instead of equation.
The theory of a wedding dress and the theory of
a wedding dress on fire. The theory of binding breasts
like pages of a book needing to be read. The theory
of birth as death sentence. The theory of life as illness.
The theory of male and the theory of female and
the theory of neither and yet, still, this body, like mine,
graphed on so many dimensions. The theory of choice,
like reaching for an apple instead of an orange. The theory
of sin, like reaching for an apple. The theory of ribs
as prison bars. The theory of homelessness among
family. The theory of children who claim you, likewise,
as a blessing. The theory of your smile. The theory
of a rainbow after the storm, like the gift of a perfect
bridge over troubled waters. The theory of your hand
touching mine, incidentally, in the closet of a single
moment. The theory that one of us, in that moment
did not exist in our right mind. The theory of mind as
illness. The theory of choice, again, but for which of us
and what between? The theory of sex and sacred and
the hard, hard practice. The theory of you. The theory
of me. The theory of a good person and the truth of
a bad, though, in theory, I cannot say who or
originally published by Fugue
Telapathologies (Saturnalia Books, 2017)
Winner for the 2016 Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize
Semi-Finalist for the 2016 Discovery/Boston Review Poetry Prize
Finalist for the 2016 Best of the Net
Finalist for the 2015 Lena-Miles Wever Todd Poetry Prize
Finalist for the 2015 Auburn Witness Poetry Prize