How Did Your Mother Die? by Cortney Lamar Charleston


after Jeanann Verlee, with a shared ending
after Claire Kageyama-Ramakrishnan

She was a ghost from the day she was born.
Arm & Hammer baking soda. Just a hammer
and a strong arm. Head wasn’t as hard as his. 
The love of him that was hardheaded. Ran
out of milk in her bones. Smoked like the
barrel of a gun. A stray in the summer. 
Burying my big brother. Lived outside the
circumference of a horoscope. Ovarian
cancer. Took a breast away and then the
rest after she missed a payment. One
surgery too many. Too many hungry kids. 
Eaten. Fish-hooked and tossed back with
no Band-Aid. Drowned. Two handles of
vodka and a steering wheel. In the county
jail. Did her time and got set free for good
behavior. Let go. Impossibility. So dark
that they couldn’t even see her. Made a
promise to be at the game. We traced her
body in crayon on a big sheet of paper. Too
much sugar in the bowl of her hips. Chicken
bone. Trying to help. Police didn’t search
very long. She didn’t want to be found. God
took her. Saying a prayer for me. Explaining
what “forgiveness” means. The sun came up, 
and she was an owl’s song. Slow. Like fog. 

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Contributor Notes

Cortney Lamar Charleston lives in Jersey City, NJ. He is an alumnus of the University of Pennsylvania’s performance poetry collective, The Excelano Project, and a founder of BLACK PANTONE, an inclusive digital cataloging of black identity. His poetry has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Rattle, Beloit Poetry Journal, Eleven Eleven, Folio, The Normal School, Chiron Review, J Journal, Storyscape Journal, Winter Tangerine Review, CURA: A Literary Magazine of Art & Action and elsewhere. He has received nominations for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net.