Respectability

Cedric Tillman


the old bespectacled white man sits in the chair, faces straight ahead in his black dickies and green hooded team sweatshirt. he has a little brown bag lunch in the seat beside him and his hands are in grooves worn into his thighs. a couple seats back, two black girls start cussin', loud enough for me to hear, where I'm sitting in front of the white man. "Oh he got me fucked up, nigga got me real fucked up. they saying he gotta do 6 months. 6 months." she laughs that "ain't this some shit"-type laugh.

So the other girl says "Really? That's some bullshit," lower but audibly, as if to keep halfhearted pace w/ her friend cussin'. And the white man kinda turns and looks briefly, puts his hands back in the grooves, pulls a paper out of the hand warmers on the hoodie, some list, puts it back, 'cause he knows better. It'll be over soon.  I look at 'em, they don't notice that they're so noticeable.  They don't know to notice. Why do I notice? Someone has to make you notice yourself and we're all afraid to do it. There's power in not noticing and we all know it, the white people know it, all these black people here that have that different shade of brown to 'em the closer we get to downtown, they know it. A brotha had just said fuck that nigga at the press conference after a game in front of white people and I was still mad. But my man said: you not responsible.  They responsible. For all this shit.  And he right. He say you madder at young bruh than them, which was some bullshit to say. I know if they didn't want us to cuss on the light rail, they shoulda made a different world. I read, nigga. I just don't know if I call him out, whether he'll vote Democrat.  And real talk I don't wanna look at this plain ass white man as culprit, as “guile-ridden devil” though I know he's responsible, a beneficiary. Either way, no matter how responsible he is, these girls are my responsibility.  I could say something he couldn't say.  They my job, they belong to me.  But why risk it. It'll be over soon.  Me and the white man turn our heads like we synchronized. We look out at Minneapolis through the same window.


Cedric Tillman holds a BA in English from UNC Charlotte and graduated from American University's Creative Writing MFA program. He is a Cave Canem Fellow, two-time Pushcart Award nominee, and a former Nation Magazine (now Boston Review) "Discovery" contest semifinalist. Cedric's poems appear in several publications including Public Pool, Rove, Apogee Magazine, Iodine Poetry Journal, Kakalak, and Home Is Where: an anthology of African American Poets from the Carolinas. In 2016, he was named a semifinalist in the Saturnalia Books & Cleveland State University Open Book Poetry competitions; he was also named a finalist for the University of Akron Poetry Prize. In 2017, he was named a semifinalist for both the University of Akron and Pleiades Press Editor poetry prizes, and a finalist for the Press 53 Poetry Prize. His debut collection, entitled Lilies in the Valley, was a semifinalist selection for the 2011 42 Miles Press Poetry Award, and was published by Willow Books in 2013. Cedric hails from Lilesville and Charlotte, NC. He currently lives in northern Virginia.