An interview with James Cherry in this issue




Contributor Page

James Cherry



Joining the AARP

You know you’re old

the minute you retrieve the package

from your mailbox at the end of the driveway.


Inside, already are cards

with my name in red letters raised

across the front.


I wonder who tipped AARP

to this date where I came screaming

into the ear of the world.  Did the cousin I’ve been


avoiding for the last four months

rat me out in the name of revenge?  Or

maybe it was the optometrist’s assistant


who sold a copy of my latest prescription

for bifocal lenses.  Maybe

Mrs Piercey is an operative who notes


my jog through the neighborhood

has become a leisurely stroll

around the block.


I’m convinced my phone has been bugged

for years, that the pharmacist

isn’t the only one who knows


about my meds to control

cholesterol and high blood pressure.  I

meander back up the driveway


my index finger a letter opener

against the package’s edge,

review the application in the mid-morning


sun, realize half a century lies

behind me, that 10% off

hotel visits and a monthly newsletter


await the living to come.



Election Day

(November 6, 2012)


Eddie Lee Clemons, from my mother’s generation,

of Talcom powder, facial cream and moth balls,

wears a diadem jeweled with silver hair,

focuses the world through bi-focal lens,


orders her steps by the grace of a wooden stick.

In the cool, November morning, I drive

across town, together we make our way

to the Baptist Church turned poling place


where she crosses State lines of memory

into Birmingham, Philadelphia, Memphis,

pick scabs from the wounds of water hoses,

billy clubs, the teeth of German Shepherds,


resuscitate ghosts of Bull Connor, Fannie Lou

Hamer, Martin King.  Inside, the poll worker,

a white woman with short black hair

and a mole on her upper lip, looks over


the top of tortoise shell glasses, asks

me how many jellybeans are in that jar,

to recite the articles of the Constitution

in the order of their ratification.  I surrender


my photo I.D. and voter registration card,

instead.  I enter the voting space, cast

my ballot for a history that binds

our hands and dreams one to another.  Outside,


the vapors of rubbing liniment are caught

within the folds of Mrs. Clemons’ red and blue

dress, her arm more bone than flesh

to my touch, as she turns, eases, into my car


one leg at a time, before I’m approached

by a black man, 19, cap backwards, pants low:

“Yo dogg.  This where they voting at?” 

I nod, point to the red brick building


with a neon cross above its door, pray

he knows who he is if anyone should  ask

his name or that he has the strength

not to answer when mistaken for something less.



Breakfast with Charles

(Washington D.C., 2011)


I stumble over breakfast in the hallway on the 12th floor,

shake what’s left of a half-eaten Danish from the bottom

of my shoe.  The room service tray on the threshold,


silverware, linen napkins, a half glass of orange juice, coffee,

yogurt (Light & Fit) and a placard: Charles Wright.  I scale

oak, focus on the 1205, that I am at AWP, Wardman Park,


that a Pulitzer snores beyond the dead.  I want

to knock twice with the tenderness of room service

on Mr. Wright’s door, to tell him that we both were born


on the same day, small southern towns close to one another,

in west Tennessee and that I’ve really enjoyed

how many times I’ve heard him read.  And this time


with the urgency of hotel security, I want to tell him

that I have been trying to write a poem like “A Blessing”

for the last 20 years, how each time I read “Saint Judas,” I cry.


Now, the shuffle of slippered feet on tile is sounding

from the other side of the door, my hand suspended

between my first name and his last one, another


in the dense fog, as the mouth of an elevator at the end

of the hall calls my name.  I step inside and its doors

close against me.  Down the hallway, another opening.





The Edge of Darkness


At the intersection, Coltrane becomes

submerged beneath undulating waves

of Lil Wayne’s spit.  A late model Chevy


thumps to a stop beside me,

its orange paint, metallic

in the noonday glare.  I turn down


my volume, surrender sheets of sound

to hip hop’s beat, its bass a sledgehammer

against my windows.  Inside,


two young black men gesticulate

lyrics, nod their heads on the two and four,

pass a bottle between them, one


a shade lighter than the other,

could be me cruising

with my homeboy in 1984,


the glow from the end

of a marijuana cigarette leading us

into the darkness


that circles itself one hit at a time.

They make eye contact

With me and I nod


In their direction,

As they wait for the light,

their lives on 24” rims, spinning.