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Published: Sun Apr 15 2018
Wosene Worke Kosrof, The Inventor V (detail), 2022, acrylic on linen. Courtesy of Sullivan Goss Gallery, Santa Barbara, California
Etymology of Hoochie Mama

I’m new to his neighborhood. He is equally
new to mine—the two, divided by a dotted line
like always, by colors and the casual violence
that implies, a parallel to the universe of blocks
45 minutes away but not yet perverted by pistols.

And not yet a pound of dap between us either,
because this is the first chill, boys on trial basis,
a referee-striped sight with he and me sitting side
by side, a whistle in my head ready to blow foul
if need be as we’re watching TV, the videotape
I thieved from the parental collection, a rated-R
flick and fairly recent favorite of mine, my mind
infatuated, I guess, by the familiarity of it all, its
portrayal of an African-American family, Chicago.
Lead actresses: Long, Nia. Williams, Vanessa. Fox,
Vivica A., her middle initial a strong component of
his query to me, not one full scene into the movie—

What is A hoochie mama? What does that mean?
He puzzles me with a pure white expression, edging
real hard on his pronunciation, and pronunciation,
suddenly, becomes a boulder on my young brain
as I try to translate English to English, as I tell him:

Uhhhh, it means she’s not a patient woman. It means
she drives above the speed limit, a bit “fast.” It means
she’s a flash of legs and thighs and breasts. It means
she’s a bird, she’s free, but maybe not cheap, do you
get what I’m saying? It means there’s something to be
gotten, get it? It means get it. It means coochie. It means
cooing. Cookie. Nookie. It means it’s time for you to go
back home for dinner. It means it’s a mean thing to say.
It means you better not say it, but don’t know no better.
It means I do. It means I’m grown, grew up too fast.

_         _As we dark ones tend to do.
_                   _As we have to. Do.

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Cortney Lamar Charleston is the author of Telepathologies, selected by D. A. Powell for the 2016 Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize, and of Doppelgangbanger,
forthcoming in 2020 from Haymarket Books. A recipient of fellowships from Cave Canem, The Conversation Literary Festival, and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, he was awarded a 2017 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship by the Poetry Foundation. His poems have appeared in Poetry, New England Review, Gulf Coast, AGNI, River Styx, and elsewhere. Winner of a Pushcart Prize, he serves as a poetry editor of
The Rumpus and on the editorial board of Alice James Books. (updated 9/2019)

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