Poem of the Week | April 04, 2016

This week we offer a new poem by Cortney Lamar Charleston. Charleston is a Cave Canem fellow and Pushcart Prize nominee. His poems have been published (and are forthcoming) in numerous literary journals, magazines and anthologies, including Beloit Poetry Journal, Crab Orchard Review, Eleven Eleven, Fugue, Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Iowa Review, The Journal, Pleiades, Rattle and Southern Humanities Review, where he was a finalist for the 2015 Auburn Witness Poetry Prize.
Author’s note:

“Safe space” is a term I often hear in socially conscious, activist-oriented circles. It’s a concept that has weighed on my imagination, in no small part due to the fact that by modifying “space” with the word “safe” we are implying that space, singularly, might be inherently violent, if it is not certainly. Space, in physical terms, is something to have conflict over, and it can define the boundaries of where conflict takes place. I think about this often in regards to anti-blackness, both historically and in the present. I think of white flight. I think of gentrification. I think of divestment of economic and social capital from urban neighborhoods. I think of over-policing according to the boundaries of neighborhoods. I think of segregation and the death it never had that makes such tactics possible and effective. But beyond such physical interpretations, space defines the boundaries of conflict metaphysically as well. I think about this often in regards to anti-blackness, both historically and in the present. I think of the space between words and actions on the part of our political leaders and the policies they craft. I think of the space between rhetoric extolling equality and justice and the cold, hard math scratched into prison walls or tallied at the city morgue. I think about the space between fact, which is measured by cold, hard numbers, and truth, which is measured along emotional and spiritual wavelengths. I think about the space between my body and someone else’s, and how it can be so small and so large at the same time; I think about what lives in that space. The poem expounds on this and all of the above.


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.