Cortney Charleston

Issue 14 · Fall 2014


Tupac Shakur’s Last Words


“He looked at me and took a breath to get the words out, and he opened his mouth, and then the words came out: fuck you”

                                        - CHRIS CARROLL, LAS VEGAS POLICE OFFICER


                                                   Before the penitentiary, as                 
                                  he would come to often sing but not quite sing, 
                    she, herself, was the prison. Her hair a mat of barbed wire, 
         African-like, like the sound of her taken name to the jury. And she was     
    also the bond of words, the mortar                       of an unshakeable voice. She 
was the first wall, and he left a crack                         in her. In the crack, he later found 
a rock; in the rock, he found a ghost                         with his eyes and a holy word run
through the mud of what she had                             become. A few words, actually. There
was love and thug and bitch and                               free and sister and mama and racist
and die and God and enemy and                               Hennessey, which he was known to
share with the neighborhood –                                 every neighborhood – rocks on their 
                                                                                person, iron under their wrinkled pants. 
                                                                                 And he would take those holy words he
                                                                               found, rearrange them like books of a 
                                                                      Bible, and them boys thought his baritone 
                                                                   fit for preaching, so it became his hustle, 
                                                               and his flag, and his woman, and all three 
                                                            will surely do a brother in if he ain’t careful. 
                                                         It’ll put his most compassionate lyrics on 
                                                 trial against her word and his most misogynist, 
                                             weigh his final sentence against a dead child, 
                                       set him up for a couple chains in New York City, 
                                   or really just to put him in his place, start whisper 
                                of him being raped in jail for good measure. Then 
                             he, himself, becomes the prison. Then there is yet 
                       another crack. In the crack, he finds holy words, runs 
                   them under gasoline, sets fire to them. Ties threats 
              around his mind like a bandana, throws his body like a 
       rock against any and everything: the policeman walking 
up to the car riddled with holes like a flute, the celebrity leaving him with quickness, red
carpeting the shotgun seat, myth making home of his newfound hollow. And he looks to
the officer, his brother’s pitiless keeper, with eyes a glint of polished steel. He opens his
mouth, and out of his mouth comes a sparrow. Out of the sparrow, comes a bullet. Out
of the bullet, a fragment: forgive you. And like that, his mama felt the roots coming free
of her dreadlock, a letting go, as 7 Day Theory, despite prayers, was just another album.



Exhibitionism with a Drop of Blood

after viewing Kara Walker's “A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby”

Domino Sugar Factory 
Brooklyn, NY

A vulva made of sugar - 
his tongue visible with intent to lick,
and I suppose I shouldn't be surprised 
that it's possible for a white man 
to rape a ghost and get away with it,
not even fathom the crime. I mean, 
she was posed like any other sphinx 
ready to receive, Jemima as video vixen, 
a sweet poison. And we stand there,
quartet of shadowed-bones, observing 
the observers, who pinch their chins 
in practiced interpretation, make juggling
motions underneath her breasts, 
pose for camera phones. All the while, 
her children remain scattered about 
the factory grounds, red as wounds, 
their faces granulating into historical 
obscurity as their mother is made 
a third-rate noun in their presence: 
naked because she was never given 
any clothes to work in. And it’s clear 
I have walked willingly into the mouth 
of some type of fox, feel walls of teeth
closing in, ready to crush the bones
of all these slaves into a question
without answer, me along with them,
and the artist, a deist's kind of god.