Back to Issue Twenty-Four.

self-portrait as a constant point of contention



We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred,
bigotry and violence, on many sides. On many sides…
—Donald Trump

Here in the United States, African American means
           argument—what they say about “you people” versus

what I know about my people—
but argument, mathematically speaking, means a specific input

in a function, what bears a defined relationship to
           the output, but I’m not a good mathematician even on

my brokest days; I’m an African American
meaning I’m angry at the function of something. And here,

in the United States, a man inputs a key into the ignition
and outputs the life from a body:

puts the life in a body outside of that body, turns it into
an argument though the body nor the life formerly inside it

           were African American; they were simply American
meaning white—and woman—meaning object

before they were ever an argument meaning African
           American, meaning maybe everyone becomes African

American when they die senselessly, or that
African Americans are already dead due to senselessness, or that

           African Americans have always been white objects
in addition to arguments, but I’m not a good mathematician even

           on my richest days; I’m African American meaning
I’m angry at the function of something, and yet

this means I may be an object used for a specific function
           to get a specific output, making me, more or less, a vehicle

like the Dodge Challenger that started this latest round,
meaning it gave birth to something even as something died,

and I’m angry at the function of something in that statement
           because it should be someone died: a woman, a human being—

but I’m African American so even that assertion becomes
           an argument on top of an argument already against me,

and I’m angry about that because here, in the United States,
blood is never literal if it is mine or approximates mine

like the president said by saying nothing of good conscience,
sparking even more arguments, meaning more

           bodies, maybe, and I’m African American so I’m growing
angrier at the function of something:

the whistle that brings the rabid dogs to my doorstep,
           the billionaire businessman who blew it.


Cortney Lamar Charleston is the author of Telepathologies, selected by D.A. Powell for the 2016 Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize. He is a 2017 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellow, and has received fellowships from Cave Canem, the Conversation Literary Festival, and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. His poems have appeared in Poetry, New England Review, Gulf Coast, TriQuarterly, River Styx, and elsewhere.

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