It’s Important I Remember That Journalism is the First Draft of History—

By CORTNEY LAMAR CHARLESTON

and Ida B. Wells, well, frustrated 
the engenderment of the official record;

crisscrossed the country interviewing 
poplars that had been accessories to atrocities,

not unlike that which felled her dear friend 
Thomas Moss in Memphis, what became the lynch-

pin to her crusade though he specifically 
never dangled from a wooden limb 

like natural confections scanned for bruises 
in the produce section of People’s Grocery. 

There is no justice here, he’s believed 
to have said before being proven

correct, after the mob descended on his jail cell 
with cocked weapons, wearing black masks, blacker 

even than those that frame ivory teeth trained 
to curvature by the terror of sudden swings 

in white men’s temperament: teeth, it was told 
around town after town, that rot from the sugar 

of white women, sugar that black men steal, 
which makes the bloodshed that much sweeter, 

worth snapping necks for like stalks of sugarcane,
to say nothing of the black women left hanging at all.

The big lie looms large over the ripening fruits,
standing on their porches with shotguns loaded—

or with their luggage packed, prepared to spread wing 
and fly before they’re flown up the bark of a tree 

with hounds nipping at their heels and bulbs flashing
for the morning newspapers where it would read

that a dangerous deviant was sentenced to death
by a coalition of concerned citizens: a red record 

printed authoritatively in black until a black woman—
Ida B.—took her proverbial red pen to the horrid story

and made history retract its initial word on the subject, 
though not its inherent threat which is set in tombstone.

 

Courtesy Curbstone Books/Northwestern University Press. All rights reserved.

 

Cortney Lamar Charleston is the author of three full-length poetry collections: Telepathologies, Doppelgangbanger, and It’s Important I Remember (forthcoming). His poems have appeared in Poetry, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Poetry Review, The Kenyon Review, and elsewhere.

[Purchase Issue 27 here]

It’s Important I Remember That Journalism is the First Draft of History—

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