Cortney Lamar Charleston

The Hood


+ + + + +


In the moonlight, a steeple of cloth crowns
the head of a good, church-going man. Pay little mind
to his serpent’s tongue. His jagged teeth, deteriorated
from chewing coal. His scornful eyes as bloodshot
as the momentum of a bullet through soft tissue.
Take his word that the rope was tied of good
intentions, tied of great love for country, for family,
for manhood. In imitation of Christ, he carried
that cross here on his back. The fire set to it is not
hatred; Moses will testify it is the healthy fear of God.
Our brother in a gentler nature is only reminding us
of our proper place. And in Sunday affection, we call him

our Hood.


+ + + + +


Come dawn, all the colored kids wipe ash from eye.
Pack their schoolbags. Walk past the statuesque making
monument of the corner in front of the liquor store,
past the Pigeon Man passed out on the sidewalk. Trace
the dance of a Christian prayer across the busiest streets.

In their classrooms they read the same books that taught
their grandparents, both things kinds of expository, unhinged
at the spines from life without retirement, just like
the old janitor, sanded down to bone. His hands, callous.

If one could count the splinters that have retired in them
from pushing mops and brooms day after day, they’d have
ample to recreate the accessory of the messiah’s end,
what set mold for gold chains of rapper fame.



+ + + + +


While we sleep, he knocks against the window,
shouting epithets, making threats. Fires a few gunshots
into the air for effect. We don’t go outside. Don’t
confront him brandishing a pistol of our own.
Don’t call police, because the police are already
here keeping order. We simply wait for Law

to pass.


+ + + + +


Around here, black men disappear without notice,
never return from the liquor store a mile down the road.

The rumors will spread, say he went for cigarettes,
but in the end, became smoke drowned in wind.

Funeral held in the church a few blocks away
from Big Mama’s house, its steeple a historical
allusion in the distance. Everyone passed his casket
dressed in dark, unmistakable ethnicity, even
the men crying as fluently as faucet handles turn,
the rope burns on his throat well hidden by a necktie.


+ + + + +


When night fell again, more shots. A couple
windows broken by the butts of shotguns. Fires
ignited on crosses. We slept through it all,
our bones of rock, the word in his mouth red hot,
hateful, yet warm enough to live with: the fire
a tent is pitched around in brotherhood
wherever we go that also reminds us why

   our blood is easy shed.

Cortney Lamar Charleston is a Cave Canem fellow and Pushcart Prize nominated poet living in Jersey City, NJ. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Beloit Poetry Journal, Crab Orchard Review, Eleven Eleven, Folio, Juked, The Normal School, pluck! The Journal of Affrilachian Arts & Culture, Rattle and elsewhere.