“American Terrorism in Seven Acts”
By Cortney Lamar Charleston
Survival tactic: poor movie etiquette.
I keep my cell phone on silent, never off.
As people file into the theater,
I locate the exit signs. Record them
to heart like a drumbeat.
Sip a cool beverage as walls close in,
the seats on either side of me taken by
the silhouettes from gun ranges.
The speakers blast violently.
I go deaf for a moment or two.
See a demon hatch from the
eggshell of a skull; pinch myself.
The audience claps. Heads home
without a single prayer uttered.
By the time I am sitting behind
a steering wheel I have forgotten
the value of life, something measured
when fear is on opposite balance.
Fear: that sensation known when
a cop stops my car while I am dressed
in my skin; what subsides as my
diction graduates, my purple English
substituted for possibly a purple bone.
I got off with a ticket and
an attitude. Drove slowly from
there on, my radio lying low
like a fitted cap over the eyes.
Before long, I hear sirens again.
Look in the rearview mirror; see nothing.
I am the one closing in. Meeting fate.
Gangs, said in an apathy that
could drive men to murder.
How sad. To that boy, it must have
sounded like a bomb exploded,
the limb of a family tree blown off.
That was the story in Boston,
in Oklahoma City, but the reporters
do not mention a terrorist here.
Indifference is figurative language
fit for interpretation like a poem
taught at Columbine High School.
Three dozen shot on the wrong
side of town this weekend; we take
our morning coffee with cream.
It’s becoming all too common, we cried
when schoolhouse rocked, turned
a choir of blonde angels within minutes.
It is all too common, the avoidance
of certain places, certain conversations.
Disregard of life by any mode is
a concept that wears a suicide vest.
Spade is spade no matter why
it digs the grave it does, so call us
what we are to our enemies.
Stand your ground on that and
kill to protect it. Forget about
walking home from school through
turf wars over grams of rock.
Admit the September move to
New York City never happened
because everyone rides the subway.
The risk, you thought, too great.
Cortney Lamar Charleston was raised in the Chicago suburbs by two South Siders, but now 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 Rattle, Word Riot, Lunch Ticket, Specter Magazine, Kinfolks Quarterly, Bird’s Thumb, and Mobius: The Journal of Social Change, among others.