for Eric Garner
7:39 A.M. – I wake in a mood, my bedroom suffused by a soft blue hue, the song of distant sunlight and low-hanging clouds. I leave my girlfriend to rest a few minutes more, her imagination plugging in the space between prayer and flesh. I throw on my bathrobe and walk downstairs. I look at myself in the mirror through lenses of dust; discard my robe, my sweatpants, my yellowed t-shirt with a hole to the right of my left nipple, eight or nine millimeters across. I gently twist the faucet handle on its neck. The water is faintly warm, like spit, and takes the smell of my body down the drain with it; my hair gets washed – adored with shea, massaged with my palms and a passing thought or two. I dry off, brush my teeth, head upstairs and toss earth tones over earth tones like a funeral. I depart for work after kissing my girlfriend, still filling my outline in the mattress with more valuable light. I catch the PATH train into Manhattan. It’s that rare day I have a seat, which is good, because I forgot my orthotics and my feet are tired from weeks of trying to take stands. I sit next to a swollen brother, but we don’t talk, choosing to listen to our headphones until we exit the train. I walk the usual seven blocks, stopping on the way to grab a low-fat cream cheese bagel, tiptoeing around suits on the sidewalk smoking cigarettes, a single at a time. After arriving at the office, I boot my laptop and grind through a long day of meetings held over thin wires. I run into college friends when I pick up a burrito for lunch; I smile at them without concern for what showing my teeth can do. After eating, it’s back to hustling. During a bathroom break, a white friend living in Atlanta, who is usually just a friend, texts me: no indictment. I text back something approximating anger, but my actual demeanor is more like word. I chat with a certain few co-workers later in the day. We’re all upset and say so in low voices so our colorful language isn’t overheard: word. When the work is no longer urgent, I go home. I get a seat on the train again, sitting next to a slender brother playing Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. I don’t say anything; just watch his polygonal avatar tote machine guns, think to myself: word. When I get off the train in Jersey, I can hear my girlfriend’s sister’s white boyfriend playing violin on the train platform. Usually, I just think of him as my girlfriend’s sister’s boyfriend, or as himself, but there’s a thin wire in me that’s been tripped, and not in the name of classical music. When I get above ground again, my phone buzzes to life: a text telling me to make dinner tonight since she’s coming home late. I reply with something equating loosely to word, and with that same ease, my praying mind swells my gut with chicken. My hands follow its lead, casually, flouring the cold and the raw. This is how I’ve been taught to stomach death.
Cortney Lamar Charleston lives in Jersey City, NJ. His poetry has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Rattle, Beloit Poetry Journal, Eleven Eleven, Crab Orchard Review, The Normal School, Folio, J Journal, CURA: A Literary Magazine of Art & Action and elsewhere. He has received nominations for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net as well as a Cave Canem fellowship.