C. L. Bledsoe


When I was a boy, I heard roaches sing.
It only happened at night, after the divorce.
Mom went back to St. Louis and Dad was drunk.
Everyday I came in from the rice fields,
                too sweaty to sleep but too tired not to,
                pressed my cheek to the wall beside the bed
                because it was cool,
and they were in there, singing.

This was different from in the fields. I’d heard mosquitoes,
but never roaches, sing. I listened and forgot
                the water moccasins that stroked my leg like fingers
                as they swam past, the shovel that dribbled mud down my back
                like a heavy breeze, the dull gray of levies
                that stretched out before me that day
                and would the next,
                the weight of my father’s tired muscles
                as we dragged him from his truck to bed,
                the quiet of the house since Mom was gone,
I forgot it all, and listened to them sing.

In the mornings, I woke, staggered
                into the dusty light of my father’s truck
                and tucked the memory of my nights away,
                under the hard slap of the sun on my back,
                and the drunken jokes of farmers that didn’t make any sense.
I sank into the mud of those fields
                and into myself, waiting

                until night came,
                when I would crawl into bed,
                press my face against the wall
                and listen.


slough it off like skin       if it helps
          hot showers loosen muscles
          cold showers loosen hate
either way       it’s best to wash off the smell
of sweat       you’ve given away
before it lingers too long

don’t think of it as days or hours or lives       think
of that beer waiting patiently
          like a wife
in the fridge       think
          of death       think
of pizza and Fritos       movies on TNT       blood
           dripping from your knuckles
like rain

because life
          is so much longer than anyone
                     told us
          days       so short
and they’ll kill you with traffic
          before the fumes even have a chance
to give you cancer       kill you
           with taxes       paperwork       kill you

by digging a hole in you slow
          each day       fill it
with shit       and noise
until that’s all that’s left
          you’ve seen       what used to be men
who’ve become this

find a place or make it       in yourself
           they’ll never touch
wrap it in lead       fire       make it too hot
to touch       hate       can motivate
but it burns out like a bad lightbulb
           and must be replaced
with more bulbs again and again until you learn
to see       without it       or make something
from yourself       like light

C. L. Bledsoe is an MFA candidate at the University of Arkansas. He has poems forthcoming in Nimrod and 2River.