Cortney Lamar Charleston
It's Important I Remember That Fannie Lou Hamer Kept the Phone Off the Hook–

because she'd already answered the calling she knew

what threats were on the other line.


There was no need to add ringing to that already in her ears:

the bangs of 16 errant bullets bouncing against her eardrums;

the drumming of the police officer's blackjack,

held in one black inmate's hand and then another’s,

against her exposed body at the Law's order.


What didn't kill her

                                                  didn't kill her,


so she wheeled on toward freedom—with the Freedom Ballot,

Freedom Summer—singing hymns to her comrades the whole bus ride.


By the time they arrived in Atlantic City for the DNC,

the convention hall was buzzing. There was a pulse

that defied death as she did any other day. Fannie Lou

came to represent, to inoculate a Mississippi strain

of illiberalism within the democracy, to take a literal seat

at the proverbial table that she and her people deserved.


This assertion of principle presented an urgent political problem,

as even the president of the United States tried to blackout

the black woman whose hands were no strangers

to the soil of the situation, being on the ground, in the dirt,

from sharecropping in the cotton fields to planting

the seeds of resistance in the hearts of students.


The news cameras cut away to the White House

as she spoke before the credentials committee that afternoon,

but she was so compelling they cut back to her testimony that night.


In questioning America, in undermining its very sense of soul,

Hamer hit the nail on the head for a lot of working men and women

watching in their living rooms, the nail that closed the coffin

on President Johnson’s chances of carrying Mississippi

against Barry Goldwater come November, the beginning

of a fall of one sort, but also the rise of something truer,


and somewhere over the Delta, God thundered.






Found In Volume 52, No. 05
Read Issue
  • charleston
Cortney Lamar Charleston
About the Author

Cortney Lamar Charleston is the author of Telepathologies, selected by D.A. Powell for the 2016 Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize. He was awarded a 2017 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation and he has also received fellowships from Cave Canem, The Conversation Literary Festival and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. His poems have appeared in POETRY, New England Review, AGNI, TriQuarterly, River Styx and elsewhere. He serves as a poetry editor at The Rumpus.