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Charleston, Cortney Lamar

Charleston, Cortney Lamar


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 POETRYNew England ReviewGulf CoastTriQuarterly 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 bodiessacrifices 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 onnot 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