Co-managing editor Jacqueline Boucher on today’s bonus poem: “Bibliophobia: A Fear of Books,” like the rest of Cortney L. Charleston’s debut collection Telepathologies, is a haunting examination of generational racial trauma. Using the language of books, and the language of language itself, Charleston’s work writes the scars of a couple that can be felt generations later, heavy as a phantom limb.
Bibliophobia: Fear of Books
It was written: the alias he’s taken to like a real name.
His weight in bare skin and bones. A statement of condition
as one expects to read on eBay auctions—like new—
penned next to a price for the body, but not for the head.
The head is an empty grave the rest of him will retreat to
when he reaches the end of his wits and says no mo’ suh—
but for now, what rests on the ledger’s pages is
of indecipherable importance to him. The letters, simply
miniature skeletons of sequenced sounds he’s heard in his past,
harbingers of a certain death he does well to duck
by playing dumb or at least compatible to the orders
of his legal holder once the auctioneer has announced sold
and he pretends that he is not shrinking between his legs
or everywhere else. That word is a familiar one, what split him
from the woman he was not allowed to call wife within
earshot of a whip. She had been a lighter laborer, a house hand,
even learned to move her own in the figure of her name
as the young mistress of the plantation taught her to
in an illegal act of honey, but when found out, Massa licked
the ink from her fingers after forcing a sign off on her own sale.
He kept the children. Her children: conceived with him or him,
withheld in poor syntax and even poorer spirits; that whole family,
generations later, still un-graduated and having books closed
on them, each ending with them behind bars, bar coded.
Cortney Lamar Charleston is the author of Telepathologies, selected by D.A. Powell for the 2016 Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize. A recipient of fellowships from Cave Canem, The Conversation Literary Festival and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, his poems have appeared in Beloit Poetry Journal, Gulf Coast, The Iowa Review, The Journal, New England Review, POETRY, River Styx, TriQuarterly and elsewhere.