Cortney Lamar Charleston


White men can’t jump!100!me, or at least, they’d think thrice
before they tried to; I can wear a chain around my neck and still be
off one: that is black magic. Another hallmark trick is disappearance,
completely. Camouflage. Where does my shadow end and my body
begin? On the lip of the moon, my dude—it’s his law alone above the
night. Yes, we started substituting “ninja” for “nigga” for this and yet
another good reason:

!100!!50!the way we splatter blood like liquid swords
and you see none of it, or choose to ignore it, or shame our codes of
colors and local synonyms. But believe me, we all want to go out the
honorable way. Swinging, to a rugged beat, bumped in the brand new
whip we jacked, named so for the lash the bass snaps violently into
our chests, pushing us deeper into the not-yet-broken-in leather. And
if building men paid anything like building cars, we’d do it even more,
I promise you; I say even, because we already do plenty—

!200!!200!!25!and you
destroy them all, telepathically, with telecom and what not. Make the
women of us sell themselves for free meals and “horse hair” and skin
lightening creams, and simultaneously, you sell the algorithms of their
curves below market value, and I think: if only ninjas could hustle that
damn hard and get away with it…

!200!!50!because it’s hard to have a beating
heart behind jail cell bars shaped like white sickles. Hard like teeth are
when you sock a jaw with a hand playing the charade of a rock, and not
rock like crack, but rock like what welcomes the playing of heavy metal
to end a fight: maybe before it even starts, before the school bell rings,
or after it rings, or the head is just always filled with the ringing of red
and you can’t hear not one thing else. This is how it speaks its presence:

the anger beyond the anger, the adhesive between our lips as we stand
before a camera flash. We haven’t learned how to smile when we mean
evil. We know deeply this is the difference between us and the inverse
of and the reason our faces become problems of subtraction – the minus
signs of our mouths. Believe it: we can do math. We will do the math
for you, even. Keep even keel. Shoot and shoot and shoot and shoot and
shoot like it doesn’t kill us too, by which I mean one bullet one black boy
fires goes in two directions at once. Forwards, backwards:!50!!3!!5!a trap.

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.