Cedric Tillman


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 Rove, Apogee Magazine, Iodine Poetry Journal, Crosscut, 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. 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. He lives in Charlotte.



The Blood (after Charleston)



we stack bodies

at the fence by the road

in the Brady photos,

faces grim with the need

for the purge,

twisted by the stench of lost cause

on their dying breaths.

sever the servitude

like rotting flesh

into new miseries,

requisition our blood

for just that much

we pledge allegiance

to the peonage in the offing,

to any flag but here.


Martin/ Viola/ Medgar/ Chaney/

Schwerner/ Malcolm/ Emmitt.

Ms. Cynt and Ms. Susie

Pastor and Twyanza

bulk up to take the shots

Doc and Sharonda

Reverend Simmons

Ms. Ethel and Ms. Myra,

they pool and grow cool

around a Bible study table,

die into the floor

at their bend of the circle,

heads hung with the piercing,

temples open

as the door of the church.

The fount still flows,

they hung L.D. & Ms. Laura

from the bridge in Okemah,

dangled them over the river like bait,

celebrated the pendulous sway

of their desecrated bodies

in a photograph weighted by now

with timekeeping. We remember you.

You are the heritage that heritage begets.

We are a census of our stories,

we can name names

before Charleston.


Eulogize the wound in the wind,

festoon every moment

with self-deception

but not here

tell another lie

say this flag was sacrifice or blood money,

acres or mules, anything like a tithe

on the cost of an absence,

rally together for warmth

and flinch at regret

in your back yards

but not here

where what we know

inoculates against nostalgia.


Forgiveness makes no demand

when it could. To be forgiven,

you would have to know

the grace of a discount.

You would have to believe

you were in debt.



shawty (harmony in red lamplight)


I’m just sayin’ shawty–

the sudden whisky

of wonder

opulence of sand where

thighs thick and hale


into the hem of a garment

steeped in red

an aureole

of décolletage

a garland of curls

lambent in lemon chiffon

the crimson blot contrast of lipstick–

I need that in my life ma.

I’m just sayin’



Cankerworms (for South Sudan)


better that the catkins were culprits,

how softly they fell to the ground

quiet as secrets, nothing to say

they would be there in the morning.

that first year,

the sky crackled a chorus of tiny maws

eating daylight into tree leaves,

and what fell into our eyes

as we searched for the sound

was the black buckshot

covering the cars.


if they get past the sticky traps

they will be slaves to their natures,

still gluttonous, clogging the gutters,

the stench of their stale rain

seeping through screen doors,

windows opened for spring air.

next year, there is the toxin

for the survivors,

some atonal spray,

for we can assume that swelling

into song again, every year

the Lord brings.

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