Doing the Work My therapist thinks being polite is the same as faith, a habit, worn long enough— like a crate-trained soul—I smile. This is how we patronize each other, her and me and God. If I promise to jump at the thunder, He promises not to burn me from the ground up. With her, it’s just cash. She asks if I have any friends. I say too many has always been my problem. That’s not the right word. What I mean to say is that when I was younger, I never woke up alone, but I never slept, either. Let me tell you a joke. What does a gangster cat say? (In an Edward G. Robinson voice) Meow, see, meow. My daughter and I made that up together. Maybe you had to be there. To put it another way, if I open my mouth, what do you think will come out? Dirt daubers crawling on my tongue, which is another way of saying writer’s block, the smell of mud, which is another way of saying death. But I paw through the nests, looking for the sound of my own voice before I lost the accent, the mud for my father’s approval. When I was a boy, and the sickness took her, my mother would howl late into the night, me lying in the dark, listening to the animal that had gotten in, waiting for it to find me and feed. I’m not trying to complain. Lots of my friends had much harder lives than I until they died. She asks why I’m here, and I say I’m buying time. I’m tired. I’m going to kill myself, but I can’t today. I have an appointment. Give me a decade. Help me find the strength, somehow to last that long. Not that I’m implying in any way that it would be your fault. She nods, and I’m grateful for her so obviously practiced sincerity; the last thing I need is to fling a craving on some body. Here is a list of ways I’ve tried to die. Water, wind, a bullet’s kiss, the things of the world I’ve swallowed. I’ve got so much going for me, I can barely stand. This is why I don’t own a gun. Do you drink or do drugs? She asks. That’s a kind of trust exercise with the world I’m not prepared to take, I say. The only thing I remember about my mother’s smell is urine. Maybe, if I could’ve saved her, I could forgive myself for still being alive. But forgiveness is a myth; eventually, you just forget to be angry. Let’s not talk about me anymore. She says, Okay Here’s an exercise. I want you to write about your trauma. When that’s done, I want you to run as far away from it as you can. And then have a snack or soothe yourself in some way. I can hear rain outside as I type this, working on its aim. Maybe I’ll order pizza. *** Some Thoughts on Moonflowers Skitterings in the night, like bristly feet and dripping teeth. I am not butter, I don’t care what the pamphlets say. You may not fry anything in me. Magic lacks melatonin, which is why it hides from the sun. Ask anyone who knows. Shadows. Moving lights. If all the evil could shut the fuck up that would be great. I’m trying to die, here. My head hurt for days because I couldn’t afford to keep up with my meds. Don’t tell me it’s about anything other than greed. It’s always raining somewhere n mi hart. *tap tap* Maybe the mice are putting on a symphony. Maybe the moonflowers are going for a walk. Maybe the dust bunnies are thirsty for blood. When I go on meds, I can’t see anything inside my head, so I have to write to have thoughts. It’s about keeping myself safe because the squeaky wheel gets evicted. On a scale of one to ten tell me how Capitalism is treating you today. The first two don’t count. These nights when I’m waiting to be recycled, I think about the warmth of your body in my arms and remember there was a time however brief I didn’t feel alone. haha no take backs. *** Mary Oliver I’m supposed to tell you a story to make you forget how sad it is you’re going to die without having enjoyed most of your life. Well, okay. Nature is a good start, like how these little gray birds roll in the dust on a path outside my apartment, avoiding the broken glass, stray cats. They do it because their bodies make too much oil, which is good for helping them be aerodynamic, but not when it’s too much. This is a metaphor for how adaptations often overwhelm our lives. But it’s also about birds, so Mary Oliver can eat it. But not really, because she’s really good, if you’re the kind of person who can afford a garden. I still need a joke, though. They’re hard, especially in poetry, which is supposed to be too pretentious to laugh at itself. Here’s one my daughter is working on: Knock knock. (Who’s there.) Doorbell repairperson. (Doorbell repairperson who?) Ding dong. She’s still working on it. She’s eight. Don’t be so fucking judgmental. *** Remember the Lightning and Her Sister Darla Back then, the world existed in 4 minute slices, radio friendly, and capable of being shined with the right spit. We never listened to the words because we trusted the censors, not realizing they were dying like the rest of us. Pastries tasted like sugar, and funny colors didn’t matter in a beverage. This morning, I dumped out my leftover intentions in the parking lot so I could recycle the cup. Maybe a flower was trying to grow from that concrete. I followed a man to the stairs—give me the confidence of an old man in shorts and sandals, black socks worn without irony, and an overwhelming need to chat with strangers. I was never that unable to question others’ desire for my company, and I have mania. Inside, everything is animal, including my shirt. Every day, I forget the color of the sky until I sneak out and ask someone. Most times, they look from one to the other and shrug. I finally petitioned to get a screen put up. It flashes “blue and sometimes gray” from dawn until dusk. I still ask because I don’t like to believe. Back then, the sky was always forgetting me. Lightning asked my name at parties, so it knew who to avoid. Now, I see it on my morning commute. Ugly tie and khakis. Sleeveless blouse the wrong color for its skin. Its sister Darla got married and divorced a long time ago. She’s back from the coast, but no one seems to know which one. Kids and debt. When I catch the last elevator with the lightning, it’s shaking its head, shocked at the state of things, like us all.
Raised on a rice and catfish farm in eastern Arkansas, CL Bledsoe is the author of thirty books, including his newest poetry collection, The Bottle Episode, and his latest novel The Saviors. Bledsoe co-writes the humor blog How to Even, with Michael Gushue: https://medium.com/@howtoeven Bledsoe lives in northern Virginia with his daughter.