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