A Letter of Complaint from Uniontown, Ohio

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“An Ohio woman has sued a Chicago-area sperm bank after she became pregnant with sperm donated by a black man instead of a white man as she and her partner had intended. The woman is seeking damages and wants to ensure the sperm bank doesn’t make a similar mistake again.”

 – Associated Press

 

Here is exactly what you took from me:

one less awkward glance

in our direction, a mumbled dyke

rusting over on an arid tongue

like an idle piece of factory machinery –

a commonplace in vast, oxidized Ohio. This

just my way of saying I know how hate

operates – it sits all around me,

waiting to hum with gainful employment.

I am a woman in love with a woman;

I know the things I’m supposed to

sew, those I can’t sow but want to

every time I cramp

inside the curse of anatomy,

though it is my body’s calling a man

to someplace he’s unwanted. I guess

what I really wanted, in those moments,

was to see my face

inside of another face: that is the joy

God must’ve had when man and

womankind were clean mirrors,

though I’d kiss the blood spilled

from my body to get her here,

into my arms – her mother’s arms –

but you took that moment from me,

my let there be light,

you fraudulent salespeople,

you unintelligent designers!

I can hear the machines at work

as I hum my daughter to sleep;

have you any idea how woefully

unprepared I am to mother

her affliction? My father used to work

in a steel mill. Growing up,

he used to beat up black boys with his fists

for the sport of it, to see if they

were really men and fought back –

tell me, am I supposed to let him

hold this child, pinch her curls

between the vise of his fingertips,

trying to make them straight like our own

or what was lost with me?

There are some things a comb can’t conquer.

I tell this girl stories at night, I tell her

she could be anything she wants

except what I wanted,

and I try not to believe it,

or that she’s here, my blood

and browned as if she were left in the sun

too long after a fistfight

along the road of my last name,

that road which lead me

to this neighborhood

for a stylist who can untangle

all of this fear I’m feeling,

my car parked outside,

humming, an exit purchased

the same way we purchased our ways out

of filth in Cleveland

and Youngstown, the way

we purchased a male sample

and got a baby girl, beautiful

but visibly less than what we’d

bargained for, earning us one more glance

of disapproval than we got yesterday

before the newest plant opened

the next town over. Our highways

hum with truckers’ horns now,

a sign that industry has returned,

or perhaps, never left us completely.

The American heartland is such

a resilient place, you know –

it fights against what it has to,

and so will we, damn it. So will we.

 

Photo by Austin Beeman

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About Author

Cortney Lamar Charleston is a Cave Canem fellow and Pushcart Prize nominated poet living in Jersey City, NJ. His poetry has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Beloit Poetry Journal, Crab Orchard Review, Eleven Eleven, Fugue, Hayden's Ferry Review, The Journal, The Normal School, Pleiades, Rattle, Southern Humanities Review and elsewhere.

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