Still Life with Light-Skinned Rapper Wearing Newsboy Cap
Cortney Lamar Charleston
The way my dad speaks of the event, it must have represented 
a wrong corner being turned: says they found his friend Nathan 
face-down on the sidewalk near the liquor store, soul frozen in 
the puddle that is the human body, and his as cold as the pole 
at the intersection holding the traffic light, because this is the 
South Side of Chicago, because this is Roseland, because this is

	the winter of 19… 

		not too far from Grandpa's bungalow on State Street.
		Where he used to live, anyway. That house always had a 
		peculiar smell, I thought: thoroughly clean yet sterile the 
		way I imagine a ghost is in the nostrils. For me, it was a 
		museum of everything I was but didn't fully understand. 

For my father, it was the womb filled with echoes of 
my grandma clattering pots and pans in the kitchen. 

		For my grandpa, it was purgatory, something she escaped 
		but he didn't. Besides those things, it was a just another 
		home in a notorious neighborhood. Whenever I went over 
		there, I always had to ask my father for some commentary. 

He would tell me about playing ball over at Abbott Park, 
how all the adults policed the neighborhood and anybody's 
mama could lawfully punish you, how fights would break 
out but nobody broke out the guns unless they wanted to 
admit they were a coward. He loves his hood, but it doesn't 
love him back anymore. Most of the folks he knew are long 
gone: either moved out or were on the losing end of spades. 

		The only thing that looks familiar is the way boys crowd the 
		corner, there no matter the time of day, or if a classroom is 
		open nearby. It never made him nervous back then, but things 
		have changed, he says. And in the most important ways it has: 

he has two sons now, and the eldest, judging by that new rap 
CD he keeps in rotation, has soul beyond his years, as if it had
belonged to someone he grew up with who never grew to be 
his age. Common sense says you have to be careful with boys 
like that: they always try to find out where they come from.

Cortney Lamar Charleston was raised in the Chicago suburbs by two South Siders, but currently lives in Jersey City, NJ. He is an alumnus of the University of Pennsylvania and its premier performance poetry collective, The Excelano Project. He is also a founder and editorial lead for BLACK PANTONE, an inclusive digital cataloging of black identity. His poetry has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Lunch Ticket, Specter Magazine, Kinfolks Quarterly, Bird's Thumb, and Mobius: The Journal of Social Change, among others. 


more by Cortney Lamar Charleston:
Still Life with Skateboarding Rapper Orbited by Nerd Paraphernalia
Windy City