Eavesdropping on White Noise

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At this café on 85th & Lexington, there’s a light-skinned woman

explaining microaggression to her companions, or trying to,

 

and I’m looking at her, politely, with my peripherals –

that nose on her face, to me, like the Great Sphinx’s lost

 

to history. Hips sitting as wide across the chair as a breakbeat

over eras of groove. Cornmeal complexion, a residual of grinding

 

the bodies of women into submission: all those black bones,

all those redbones – to the dust, to the dust, to the dust.

 

Now,

 

her hipster friends won’t recognize her as a portrait of violence,

but I do, damn deeply, and I sit on the lowest octave of all,

 

nibbling on an oatmeal cookie while the homie has his face in a book,

and I’m listening to their clique dub over Michael Jackson

 

and Queen records with their Friday afternoon recitation-

type questions, the kind that show they haven’t read,

 

got minimal interest in doing the hard work, their faces

quizzical, I’d say, only if I’m being nice, but she is

 

more merciful than me because she chose them, tries painting

murals around the course material, giving some color commentary:

 

like when someone compliments me for being articulate with surprise

acting a hint of lemon in their voice;

 

like when they touch my hair or ask to; like when someone asks me

if I work here and I don’t have a uniform on

 

like employees do; like when they assume my affinities from music

to men to menace to the point I want to be;

 

like when they ask me why I talk about race when I’ve been

black all my life. All. My. Life.

 

And they nod at her.

They just         nod.

 

Photo by Stefano Corso

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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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