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Cortney Lamar Charleston 
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BALDWIN RIFF

The whole world is burning,
but I’m still not sweating.

             This means one of two things:

 I’m not close enough to the flames
(Ha! Have you looked at me, fam?!)
                                                           or
I, myself, am made of fire.

 

NOTE PINNED TO THE WALL FOR THE FLY WHO FREQUENTS IT

I don’t give a damn anymore. Flat out.                       Let it be known—

            in front of the police,                 in front of the FBI and CIA and NSA,
in front of POTUS,                NATO,            the United Nations,

                                                            in front of God Themself—

that I will drop you                  if I see you come anywhere near here again.
Oswald? Please. If there is anyone in history who ever knew too much,

                        it’s you, creeping around in the dark like some IRS agent.
Done seen me naked and compromised.          Seen my browsing history,

my credit card and bank account numbers. Know the passwords to my every
secret that needs protection                            or not to exist inside of me,

            have heard every blasphemy, profanity and disrespect.

I ain’t gon’ let you walk outta here, talk and misrepresent my heart.
I ain’t gon’ let you tell the world I hate it,

                                                                    because that just ain’t true.

You wouldn’t understand real hate,                           how it consumes
the flesh like a cremation flame. It would destroy a small thing,

                         and you are a truly small thing: a spec to the spec that I am

to them.           You may be the only thing I hate even more than myself
because you are smaller than I feel,                            so much so, I might 

take up smoking, watch my fingers curl like burning paper into a Panther fist
punching the brick wall
                                                with you between it and my bloody knuckle.

 

 

 


Cortney Lamar Charleston is the author of Telepathologies, selected by D.A. Powell for the 2016 Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize. He was awarded a 2017 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation and he has also received fellowships from Cave Canem, The Conversation Literary Festival and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. Winner of a Pushcart Prize, his poems have appeared in POETRY, The American Poetry Review, New England Review, AGNI, TriQuarterly and elsewhere. He serves as a poetry editor at The Rumpus.

 


(Feature photo by Neal Boenzi/New York Times Co./Getty Images)


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