Leap Year CL Bledsoe
The Red Ceilings Press
MMXI [rcp 32] www.theredceilingspress.co.uk www.redceilings.blogspot.com/
Leap Year CL Bledsoe
Poems in this collection appeared in the following journals in similar forms, sometimes with different titles: The Album; Breadcrumb Scabs; Children, Churches, and Daddies; Clockwise Cat; The Dead Mule; Ditch; Frigg; Hamilton Stone Review; Ken Again; Locust Magazine; Muse Apprentice Guild; Neon; Perigee; Right Hand Pointing; Thieves Jargon; Wheelhouse
February 1 The dogs came for the gay, the black, the different. They came with teeth, they came with claws; they came for everything blue, everything green, everything they could see but not smell. They took our tongues, left their barks in our heads so we forgot how to speak. Each night, all night, we panted by the door and never slept. They taught us to love the taste of our own asses, to chew sticks instead of food, taught us how to pee for scent, when to pee, then taught us not to. They taught us to love living in crates; the bones of our fathers made tasty treats which also kept our coats shiny. We shaved ourselves so we wouldnâ€™t have fleas; then, we lost our thumbs. Now thereâ€™s no one to pat our heads, no one to throw balls. Who will make the chew toys? Who will make treats? Not I, we said; Not I.
February 2 This morning they are tiptoeing elephants, listening to the cats make love down by the water, as must I, as must we all. I dreamed last night my foot detached itself, flopped away from the mat (this is all they allow me to sleep on. The plight I must endure! The outrage none of you feel could feed all the orphans of China for decades) and drowned itself in the toilet. I woke feeling damply evil, toilet paper underneath my toenails. I woke in India, nuzzled by elephants who’d come to stab my eyes with their coffee breath, my arms, oh my arms. They put their trunks under my tongue (imagine the agony of uncured elephant leather). They fed me oatmeal with cranberries in it, waited till I went BM, and took it home to show their children. They patted my head, became cliché, more than that, became film, melted in the light, threw shadows of incineration like an Iron Maiden concert I went to one time with a girl who let me look down her shirt, and went to commercial. I am waiting, saving my thoughts to feed their little plastic cups. When they lumber back through the cage door, I’ll light the cup, throw it in their faces, escape and find her, out there where the music is bad and long. Now, all I need is Prometheus to come, steal their coughs, share them with me and burn, burn. There will be buzzards, but that’s my liver’s concern, not mine.
February 3 Heard something in the vent above my bed. I used to keep my nickels in there so the orderlies wouldn’t steal them. Had to move fast so they didn’t see me in the monitors. Stood on the bed and saw two dots of light, moving in unison. Thought it was a foo fighter flying low. Took the vent cover off. Small, blue fur huddled in the breeze. Some kind of animal, a wild jape. I took it out, fed it a little from dinner I was able to vomit up. (Japes have extraordinarily vicious teeth, and yet often lack the developed jaw muscles necessary to chew due to a viral epidemic which has stricken the population in recent years.) I named it Tourniquet because I’ve never been able to spell that word. Hid her (the sex of japes is easily differentiated by observing the length of the nose in adults) under the bed until lights on. Then I snuck her out to the yard and showed her the fountain. (Japes love water, being predominantly found on small islands, far removed from human life.) I nudged her towards the water, leaned out to show her the statue of St. Christopher in the center. I thought it would be fun to watch her swim, little thing. I splashed water on her until she cried, loud, braying. She clambered back into my shirt sleeve, snuffled quietly into my elbow. I took her back to the room, hid her in my sock drawer and waited.
February 4 The hair-pulling doll-head across the hall acts like my story about the time Bob Villa gave me the finger doesn’t compare to his ramble about Tom Cruise going duck hunting on his father’s land. I’m not even talking about style, it’s height, pure and simple. Bob Villa is 6’4, Tom Cruise, 4’8. Napoleon tried three times to rule the world. Alexander the Great carried books which he could not read and wept alone at night among the dead he would later eat. Hitler had one testicle, fucked dogs which he often failed to satisfy sexually, and often reeked of white out. Genghis Khan frequently tipped much less than 10%, even when the service was commendable. All of these men were bastards, and all of them were taller than Tom Cruise.
February 5 a. I picked at a scab on my cheek until I got it off, and everywhere the blood touched, a new scab formed. I picked all those off my face and neck and hands and leg and when they bled, the scab spread until it covered me completely. Tourniquet brought me flies for protein, which the orderlies confiscated. The gods of flies like wasted blood. See how their white clothed maggots are drawn to rot. b. I felt squelched up top, weak from lack of blood, dug around and found a knot too big to cut, so I pulled it free, tore hair and flesh from the roundness of my head, unraveled it like string from a sweater until nothing was left but void. I felt hollow as an Easter bunny, the darkness between my ears full of light, dust. The breeze from the vent made my toes twitch when it blew over the hole. I turned up the fan and made myself dance a full five minutes before the orderlies came and wrapped me up in gauze.
February 6 Woke with sores on every third finger, both ass cheeks, my nose completely missing and yet I still smell terrible. The halls were full of extra-nosed grinners. I cannot sit or comfortably type words containing the letters d, c, e, k, i. m, and yet here they are. Once, I woke with no tongue and couldnâ€™t whine. I called myself South America all day, but no one could understand what I was saying until it grew back in the late afternoon, and then it just wasnâ€™t funny anymore.
February 7 The clump-clump-clump of the breeze trotting across the bars of my window distracts me from the torture Now itâ€™s pulling a beer wagon a Clydesdale wind thumping against my window bars Now it stops nestles its straining lips in the flower patch the dying wilted ideas Steam rises like ropes melting off its neck Now the breeze is a cat it never comes when I want it but after the treatment when I am old cold and late it sniggers like I am 8 and Terry Reubin is stealing my glasses behind the bleachers again
February 8 If that had been a knocking at my door and not a chuckle-throated manic depressive dropping his ability to laugh like a lost key as he passed in the hall, I would rise like steam waft to the door open and smile and have something terribly clever to say about the nature of time the way it bunches like curtains in the hand of an agoraphobic god perhaps something about sorrow the empty aching bucket a soul becomes through lack of use or too much like a discarded light bulb broken at one end and letting water seep in like an empty womb of light Maybe it will be a her and I can tell her about the dream of popcorn I just had whole potential lives exploding outward into something like fuzzy paper segue it into asking her if sheâ€™d like to see a movie tonight and afterwards though I donâ€™t know how to dance we could go dancing like in old movies romantic flying over the floor like a steam cleaner though to be honest Iâ€™ve never seen any of those movies just clips moments before I realized what they were and changed the channel
February 9 The slow line of traffic dead ends into the lunch room, eyes limp across the slack faces of tray-bearers exiting singly, drifting through lanes; I am damp cardboard mashed potatoes. I am boiled meat. I am unsweetened peas. I smell of rot and bleach. I carry my tray of myself to a thin plastic chair, a creaking table, slipping crumbs into my pocket to feed my jape whose ass is swelling melon-heavy already from breakfastâ€™s shame.
February 10 My sister crept down to visit me from the floor above. She has no hips so she has to hold her legs with her hands. When she lets go, sometimes they fall over, and she can’t pick them up. This is why she hates being introduced. We shared toast; I took the crusts, she the crumbs. We played board games though we lacked most of the pieces and had to use thimbles. We filled them with pinkie fingers from the schizos down the hall (who’ve been crying about their extra pinkies for weeks). We never spoke of father’s mysterious disappearance researching butterflies on the Isle de la Fuerte, the sounds of mother’s screams that still echo through the walls after she bricked herself inside when father never arrived that day with her laundry, or the splashing of my goldfish cousin Ernie ate that Thanksgiving when he had too many deviled eggs.
February 11 I am freezing in a woodchipper, naked as a barkless tree. FEMA isn’t coming. I’ve tried to tell you this is a Steve world, and I am not even a Frank. There are leaves in my hair. Camels drown in saltwater just as easily. There is an animal who thinks he is a man down the hall who claims I kissed his sister. He’s been yelling all night, every night, about disappearances. I try to tell him we’re space junk; it’s only a matter of time until we fall back here. But he only nods and wipes his lips pointedly, saying there’s a bit there, something red. I’ve been wiping mine all day and the blood has smeared them. Now, if I go out, he’ll know, he’ll know.
February 12 They’ve got souls like mood rings, brown and dirty when they’re grounded (on top of me, their sticks full of shock like I’d told a surprisingly funny joke) so full of grey you’d think their parents were poor. But this is a lie, souls aren’t colors or things used to make points. They are nothing more than the cold breeze slipping over the aluminum siding on a storage building. The soul isn’t chocolate melting in a box. The soul is melted, melting new, each day. This is its purpose; not to be, but being.
February 13 Tourniquet1 nibble-toed me awake, left me nine nearly whole ones (though I hardly need more than three on each foot to balance2). Outside, broken trumpets. Outside, crows3 trample leaves, kick tumblebugs4 into gutter-goals. I’ve eaten a clock5. I’ve shot my wife6, my mother7, my son8. I am comedy9. I am on the cover of a magazine (just behind the death-faced models with staples through their eyes). You say there’s no God, no hope, nothing but PowerBars and masturbation. I say there’s not even that. No book, no hungry, felt-lined bowl, nothing but toe-ache. I’ve got nine left. I’ve painted them like cherries. I only need three10.
1 My pet Jape. 2 pinky, bigtoe, ringtoe. 3 Or ridiculously obese blackbirds. Or men dressed as ridiculously obese blackbirds. Or tumblebugs dressed as men, dressed as ridiculously obese blackbirds in order to subjugate their own kind. 4 I’m fairly certain these were what they appear, though they may have been overly privileged men pretending to be tumblebugs in order to suffer abuse as a means of karmic compensation. 5 laugh. 6 Not yet. 7 Not yet. 8 laugh. 9 laugh. 10 On each foot. See Note 2.
February 14 An old man came to see me in the lunchroom, splattered his shadow all over my mashed potatoes, obliterated my shepherd’s pie completely, and said sight is an illusion, hearing the easiest sense to fool, the feeling of time falling from one’s shoulders is simply gravity releasing the body to drift. I had no juice left, nothing to convince him otherwise. Comfort, I said, comfort will save us. He smiled, shook his head, guffawed loudly as though I’d farted on his mother’s prize pudding, turned on his heel and walked away, muttering about youth, politics, style. Corruption, I yelled, waste, oppression, greed, all of these things are yours, for myself I reserve only prompt potatoes.
February 15 Pale, white, and ugly as a newborn bullet wound before it bleeds, the orderly hides behind a box of napkins. Something in his eyes is lapping at the cafeteria girlâ€™s face like a dog at a bowl of water. She bends to plop mashed potatoes on an inmateâ€™s tray. The orderly memorizes the rounded curve of her uniform pants stretched over scrawny skin. Later, heâ€™ll pretend they were her breasts groping his hands, her sweat-damp hair aching for his nose, office door locked, phone unplugged just in case the ring slaps him awake, jiggly and crying into the sunset of the world.
February 16 After milk, weâ€™re moved to corn, our (useless, anyway) ears removed so we canâ€™t hear the cries of all the baby lards, sleeping unhappily in their pens. Grown without bone, nibble-sized so their teeth wonâ€™t come in. We can still see them waddle from sleep mat to chocolate drip, sticks thrust under pelvis for leverage. When the expiration manager comes with his pellet gun, shoots their fleshy brains, it will be Lodo, equal opportunity hire, slow as river ice, who will gather these sticks and pass them on to the youngest, whose feathers have barely fallen from their skinless bodies.
February 17 If it weren’t for the noise of the wind screaming off of my days drowning out everything like a death in the family maybe I could get some rest I’ve lived a life rougher than public bathroom toilet paper I’ve paid dues you’d never understand for example a phone bill of $2137.62 owed to Lady Mystery’s Personal Psychic Hotline Late fees on cable bills bounced checks to Sonic And I’ve learned things I have scars that could turn you away in disgust like this little one right here on my ankle where I fell off my brother’s bike when I was eight
February 18 Most mornings I wake warm, marked by my jape as owned. She is coffee with real cream, fruit that tastes like fruit. She is rain that falls sideways instead of just straight down, air that smells like alive. They drag me to the showers, hurt me with water until I smell like the nothing theyâ€™ve got inside, and in the night she reclaims me, and I dream of bus station bathrooms, broken stall doors, scribbled words from strangers whoâ€™ve peed where I pee.
February 19 We hear legends of a click that brings heat a click that brings light a click that brings sound: Kafka wrote dogs who made water on the Earth, thinking this brought forth food Thereâ€™s a kind of worship there. Some say the Greeks heard their own thoughts and called these new things gods As only gods can create We would not call our words worship our thoughts less graceful than words which can be refined or think that anyone else believed thoughts were not gods
February 20 Today is the day I will weave my toupee from the hair I’ve been saving, collecting from my tongue. I wake, most mornings with hair on my tongue, none on my head. It is cold up there, never in my mouth. This is a blessing to those must hear me speak. I wanted you to know. I wanted to share my gift, my fortunate affliction. Hair comes from death; something in my throat is dying each night, growing into this tombstone each morning. You understand. It is important to chronicle our inspirations. You understand.
February 21 The New can hold years worth of light but can’t take me anywhere but this room but can’t hold the yawning mouth opening its jaws inside me. Twenty two minutes pass and it nibbles its way out. A fist to the midsection, that’s the only way of stifling this uncertain noise. Economy: that’s a hole waiting for sweat, hours, anything to be thrown down it. But even if all the trash, all the wasted hours of my life were thrown down and they overflowed, even this wedged between the teeth wouldn’t block my jaws in the slightest. Entertainment is the new ennui. I stuff the noise in my ears like air in my nose, food, ah, food. Dumb is the new thin. Must See Yellow stream of filth shooting from the opaque eyes of obsolescence this is another way of naming entertainment Show me plastic titties blow something up then have a pale and ugly boy say something like How’d THAT happen or Uh-oh Mom’s gonna be pissed Show me time sliding back like a stalled car on an icy hill Show me nothing a Missouri of needing while their bored flesh spreads over the sofa cushions like water puddling in the road
February 22 In the hallway full of road signs, they’re all therapists, their headlight eyes blinking out suggestions for change. Yield is a metaphor for sexuality, turning left is a cry for moderation, stop; you know I never talk about her. And though I may say that they should turn that all-powerful bright light eye on themselves I know it is I, am in the wrong, as surely as Jesus knows I’m a sinner and my father knows I’m no good at taking punches.
February 23 Misty gray afternoons full of spying trees naked on the lawn. I’m not fooled; I don’t need the flesh of innocents to survive. Understand, I’m more than comfort, more than callow, more than fear of having to explain myself. Branches are only that and not ever that. Remember leaves? The way they rake the sky common as fingers? Remember cars gathering pollen like honeybees? Remember sneezing? That’s all they ask you to do. Now where are your hands? Has it been so long since you’ve seen them that you’ve forgotten what they’re for?
February 24 a. Twice a week when the afternoon sun hits the chicken wired windows just so, the bell begins its thrum, herding us to session, where the wall-platefaced session leader tells shrill-voiced jokes—like the one about the guy couldn’t decide if he was a wigwam or a teepee. Tourniquet likes to hide in my pants for her nap so she shoulders against the zipper, pushing the fabric out whenever the session leader speaks. No one responds. No one looks, though, of course all eyes are on me. b. I dreamed the dogs returned for the sticks the orderlies put in to replace my guts, which disappeared long ago (that’s why they call me Tree-Guts, Bark Belly, Twig and No Berries). One of them jumped at me, pushed me over another who’d gotten behind me, and then both started digging at the dirt of my fallen form until Tourniquet appeared and flushed them. I woke, covered in brimstone, paw prints on my forehead, dander sneezes clogging my nose. Tourniquet stood on my chest, sniffling, fur bristling, mouth full of fangs dripping onto my dusty belly already sprouting twigs.
February 25 I am learning to count lies. The trick is spotting the cloud scrubbers trying to hide the vapor trail. Something in my jaw wants to kill me. They put it in there like celebrity marriage. You don’t understand; it’s pushing its goo head through the gap between my teeth. It doesn’t like what I’ve learned. This is how they work: fourteen feet by twelve by eighteen by twenty and a half by seven by forty-two. I measured it once. That makes it right.
February 26 a. If there were such a thing as politics, I would be a political prisoner. Though everyone else in here is guilty. They’ve locked me up for wearing the wrong socks. I’m fortunate there’s always such a thing as prison, or else where would I be? b. I have two fingers left and I spent them on this. The doctor was right: once you break the pig, all you’ll have left is pork. c. Heard an orderly snuffling out in the hall. Couldn’t understand anything he said, so I passed him a note under the door and watched as he unfolded it, eyes growing bright, until he saw that it was blank.
February 27 Some morning I will scramble to the barred bathroom mirror, fogged over with waking, and see myself naked, thick and remember— it’s the tweezing of the eyebrows, makes them thin, not the press of air against my face. It’s blinking, keeps the eyes moist, not the liquid dripping from the roof of the world, that lake above where an old man full of ideas waits, counting his thumbs and painting them clear. Before the day can start, someone has to call it. This is the purpose of need, the exercise of the ears, to hear that old man nod off, and Patience holding her breath until his chin strikes his chest. If I rise before she pounces, I’ll remember. Nothing more can be wished for or earned. Pull her hair. Tie her shoes together. Catch her before she loses her name.
February 28 Woke in the folded middle of the night, struggled to roll from the crease and follow the sound of gagging as poor Tourniquet wheezed her dying soul out. Held her like babies are held in ads for diapers. Her little jaws thrust wide, teeth showing, vicious and weak, tongue wagging. I turned the sink up to lukewarm, hoping the steam might help, banged on the door with my foot, and the orderlies didnâ€™t even laugh. I stroked her carpet fur, soothed her wide-eyed terror as best I could by humming Delibes as we danced. Finally, she sank two perfect teeth into the meat of my thumb, and filled her lungs with the blood. I shall bury her in the rose garden. I think someone famous said that, but I donâ€™t know what it means.
February 29 I have a shoe. It isnâ€™t my shoe; it came from the nurse. He left it when he left because he saw the shadow, in the corner, over my shoulder. He looked just right, and saw it as I see it, in the corner. It is shadow the way depth is shadow, shadow the way the ocean is wet. He saw it, hunched in its chair, trying to knit. It gets angry when it tries to knit because it failed Home EC. He looked into its eyes and saw what I see. He ran. He fell; his shoe caught and he came right out of it. It spooked the rest of them so they shot me full of dream juice, tied me up and left me. When I came to, it was me and the shadow. And the shoe, sitting on the floor, on its side, perfect.
CL Bedsoe is the author of the young adult novel, Sunlight, two poetry collections, _____(Want/ Need), and Anthem, and a short story collection called Naming the Animals. A poetry chapbook, Goodbye to Noise, is available online at www.righthandpointing. com/bledsoe. A minichap, Texas, was published by Mud Luscious Press. His story, “Leaving the Garden,” was selected as a Notable Story of 2008 for Story South’s Million Writer’s Award. He’s been nominated for the Pushcart Prize 3 times. He blogs at Murder Your Darlings, http://clbledsoe.blogspot.com Bledsoe has written reviews for The Hollins Critic, The Arkansas Review, American Book Review, The Pedestal Magazine, and elsewhere. Bledsoe lives with his wife and daughter in Maryland.
The Red Ceilings Press
MMXI [rcp 33] www.theredceilingspress.co.uk www.redceilings. blogspot.com/