Lesson for Cortney

By CORTNEY LAMAR CHARLESTON

after Lewis Holt

Those are traffic lights. They help stop people from
driving into each other. That’s a crescent moon and star
on top of that building. It means the people inside are part
of The Nation. That’s a gas station. That’s a McDonald’s.
That’s a Burger King. That’s a fried fish and chicken joint.
This blue thing is a mailbox. It’s for letters. You use it when
you have someone to write to who left. You’re right, that’s
an old car. The window broke so they use a trash bag to keep
the heat in or keep the cold out. This looks like a paper cut,
son. That’s a drop of blood. It’s warm because you’re warm
inside. That’s an ambulance for taking people to the hospital
when they’re hurt or losing blood. Not like you did, but a lot
more than that. That’s a police officer. That’s a gun on his hip.
Those are dangerous. That’s a fire truck and those people riding
on the side of it are firefighters. That’s really a church, they just
put it inside an old store. Yes, that’s a painting of Jesus. His skin
is different colors in different people’s houses sometimes. That’s
a bad school. Those metal bars keep bad people out. That’s where
grown-ups get their alcohol. Yes, kids can get candy there. This is
money and this is money, too. Not everyone has that. Don’t pick that
up. No, I’m not quite sure what that is. That’s a tree, son. No, I’ve never
climbed one or wanted to. Those are probably pigeons. C’mon, you know
that’s a belt. No, belts aren’t only for when kids are bad. This is a good school.
This is why you’re here. This is your uniform, a blue shirt and black pants. Yes,
that’s a picture of Jesus hanging over there. Remember what I told you about that.

 

[Purchase Issue 13 here]

Cortney Lamar Charleston is a Cave Canem Fellow and the author of Telepathologies (Saturnalia Books, 2017). His poems appear in Beloit Poetry Journal, Gulf Coast, New England Review, Poetry, River Styx, and elsewhere.

Lesson for Cortney

Related Posts

Image of a statue of a woman wearing a dress in white against a beige background, cover of Ama Codjoe's poetry collection.

September 2022 Poetry Feature: Ama Codjoe—from BLUEST NUDE

AMA CODJOE
When my mother was pregnant, she drove / every night to the Gulf of Mexico. / Leaving her keys and a towel on the shore, / she waded into the surf. Floating / naked, on her back, turquoise waves / hemming her ears, she allowed / the water to do the carrying.

view of valley from mountain

August 2022 Poetry Feature: Nathan McClain—from PREVIOUSLY OWNED

NATHAN MCCLAIN
Had I not chosen to live there— / among the oaks and birches, / trees I’d only ever seen in poems / until then…spruce, pine, / among the jack-in-the-pulpit / (though I much preferred “lady slipper”) / the tiger lily, milkweed, the chickadee / and blue jay, even the pesky squirrel

Park Bench

Translation: Poems by Juan de Dios García

JUAN DE DIOS GARCÍA
He speaks to us of Finnish lakes, of a dialect populated by birds and fruit, of high wooded hills, perpetual snow, a petroleum sky. “In the north they’re raised on melancholy,” he says, “and their dead weigh more than those from here.” He speaks of a Greek father and a war.