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Still Life with Kendrick Lamar’s Mama’s Van Driving in Reverse by Cortney Charleston | Word Riot
Poetry

July 15, 2014      

Still Life with Kendrick Lamar’s Mama’s Van Driving in Reverse by Cortney Charleston

Listen to a reading of “Still Life with Kendrick Lamar’s Mama’s Van Driving in Reverse” by Cortney Charleston.

Before Chief Keef, the word around here was
Do or Die, was chopping it up in the back seat of
a Cadillac, or likely, a borrowed SUV or mini-van
or cramped Japanese sedan, at least in this town.

My folks moved us way out here when I was just
a shorty, so I really didn’t have much choice but to
be a butter-knife since certain hand-to-hand skills
I never needed sharpen. It’s just my place in life.

I’m told that it’s a good one. There’s a place for
everything, really. Take my profile: it’s either
a school or a jail, the building block or the block.

This ain’t the block, but we really be out here, though.
Not me, but we, because we talk like that. A force of
habit from us all looking the same to the force of law,

             because we all drive through these expensive
             neighborhoods, pumping explicit base through
             the speakers after mandated curfew, chasing
             daughters of the well-off and Wonder Bread,

                          talking like the South Side, the West Side,
                          and that’s our story, not necessarily mine,
                          but ours, because we talk like that. That’s
                          hard to understand if you aren’t one of us.

             Don’t have to footwork, hair-cut, crossover dribble
             into this black and back into the right light again.

Because no matter where, we can always get in deep.
And if one of us does, that usually means another three.
Almost every car we use has four doors, four cracked
windows, four clouds with heads in them dreaming
of getting head, because that’s where the mind goes
in a high school full of white kids and liquid currency.

But if we roll through in caravans with sliding doors,
best believe model citizens will clear out. Fence a ghetto
around us. Move back to Chi-proper. Drive up prices in
the hoods of its most famous MC’s: Kanye, Lupe and Com.
And that’s a lyric we all know how to decipher: do or die.

Cortney Lamar Charleston photoAbout the author:

Cortney Lamar Charleston was raised in the Chicago suburbs by two South Siders, but now lives in Jersey City, NJ. He is an alumnus of the University of Pennsylvania and its premier performance poetry collective, The Excelano Project. He is also a founder and editorial lead for BLACK PANTONE, an inclusive digital cataloging of black identity. His poetry has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Rattle, Lunch Ticket, Specter Magazine, Gravel: A Literary Journal, Kinfolks Quarterly, Bird’s Thumb, and Mobius: The Journal of Social Change, among others.

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