Thursday, August 27, 2009

Dale Wisely over at Right Hand Pointing just informed me that two of my poems have been nominated for the forthcoming Best of Right Hand Pointing anthology, the proceeds to be donated to an as-yet-to-be-named charity. I don't believe this means I've made it, yet, but it's an honor to be nominated.

Also, I just learned that my poem, "The Wanting Soil," has been accepted by Eat a Peach.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Northville Review just picked up a story I've been trying to place for awhile. I've also learned that a review of ANTHEM is tentatively scheduled for October in The Pedestal Magazine.

Also, "Dear Cow," a poem from RICELAND, came out in the Tipton Poetry Journal.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Randy Describes Eternity to My Little Brother
by CL Bledsoe

R: Okay, so there's this bird.
MLB: What kind of bird?
R: I don't know. A bird. A raven.
MLB: What's a raven?
R: Sort of like a blackbird but bigger.
MLB: Blackbirds are bad. They eat crops. In school, Mrs. Thermon told us blackbirds are pests. They eat crops and they sit on power lines and go number 2 on your car.
R: All birds do that.
MLB: But blackbirds--
R: All birds do that. Besides, it's not a blackbird. It's just like a blackbird. Only bigger. Okay?
MLB: . . .
R: So anyway, the bird, the raven flies to this mountain every century.
MLB: You don't have to yell at me.
R: What?
MLB: Mommy says it's not polite to yell. Every time she yells, I get ice cream.
R: What? I didn't yell.
MLB: Yes you did.
R: No I didn't.
MLB: You're yelling now.
R: . . .
MLB: . . .
R: Okay. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to yell.
MLB: That's okay.
R: Good. So, anyway it takes the bird a century to get there, to the mountain—
MLB: Is it flying Northwest Air?
R: What?
MLB: They're really slow. When we went to see Grampa last July, we had to stand in line for like three hours to get through security--
R: No, see--
MLB: And when we got to the front of the line, they said we'd missed the flight, and they had to reschedule us for later so we had to wait another couple hours. And Mommy yelled at the security guy and they almost escorted her out of the building.
R: Well travel can go like that nowadays.
MLB: I got ice cream.
R: Good for you.
MLB: Ever since Daddy moved back to Detroit, I get ice cream.
R: . . .
MLB: When somebody yells at me, or when I have to hear somebody yell.
R: Well, different people have different parenting techniques.
MLB: Like you just yelled at me. That would be an example of when I might get ice cream.
R: I apologized for that already. Look, are you going to listen to this or not?
MLB: It's just that you're a little loud.
R: . . .
MLB: At Brewsters, if you go when it's raining they give you a free scoop.
R: . . .
MLB: It's really good.
R: It's not raining.
MLB: They have ice cream all the time, but when it's raining, it's free. One scoop. But that's all Mommy let's me have anyway. We always go when it's raining.
R: I'll keep that in mind. So this bird—
MLB: The raven.
R: Yes. That's very good. The raven flies to the mountain and it takes it a century—
MLB: It only took us five hours. But that's still a long time. Mommy cried in the bathroom. She didn't think I knew, but I could tell. Her makeup around her eyes ran.
R: Yeah, well a century is even longer than five hours. So when it gets to the mountain, it sharpens it's beak.
MLB: Why?
R: Oh, so it can eat things. Nuts and things. Easier. More easily. A beak is sort of like a pair of scissors. And it has to keep them sharp—
MLB: Mrs. Thermon says the only thing sharp scissors cut is you, so we—
R: You use safety scissors. I know, but the raven, it's like Mrs. Thermon. It can use big people scissors. It has to cut through roots and stuff. So it can eat.
MLB: . . .
R: So anyway, the raven sharpens its beak, and then it turns around and flies home. Which takes another century.
MLB: It should use a cup.
R: What?
MLB: A cup. To sharpen its beak. Daddy always used to sharpen the knives on cups, back when he still loved Mommy.
R: . . .
MLB: On the bottom. Or a saucer.
R: Well, it doesn't have any cups. Some people are less fortunate than you. They don't have cups. Or saucers. They're poor.
MLB: Like the people that shop at Kmart?
R: Yes. The raven shops at Kmart. Okay, so the raven goes to the mountain. Takes it a century. It sharpens it's beak, then it flies home. Another century. Okay? So when it has done this so many times that it has worn the mountain down flat, that's eternity.
MLB: How big is the mountain?
R: Really big. Like the Himalayas.
MLB: Grampa lives in the mountains. In Denver.
R: Yeah, okay, like those mountains.
MLB: Grampa smells. One night, he came into my bedroom and was calling me Margaret. That was Gramma's name before she died.
R: Okay . . .
MLB: He kept saying it over and over. Margaret. Margaret. Then he got into bed with me and went to sleep. He was really loud. He snored. I couldn't sleep so I went in Mommy's room and slept in her bed with her.
R: Fascinating.
MLB: Then, when we got up in the morning, we found him in my bed and he'd wet the bed.
R: . . .
MLB: So if I had been in the bed, still, he'd have gotten it all over me.
R: You're very lucky.
MLB: I know.
R: So, do you understand what I'm saying? About the raven and the mountain, how it wears down the mountain, and when it's all gone, that's eternity?
MLB: No.
R: Okay. You understand the bird? That there's this bird?'
MLB: Yeah.
R: And it flies to this mountain and it takes the bird a century to get there. That's one hundred years. That's like your grampa's entire life and your mommy's entire life added together. It's a long time. So it takes the bird a really long time to get to the mountain. Understand?
MLB: Yeah, I guess.
R: Good. So it sharpens it's beak, which only wears a little bitty bit of the mountain away. Then it flies home. Which takes another century. And when it has done this so many times that the mountain has been worn away, that's eternity. Understand?
MLB: . . .
R: Well? Do you understand?
MLB: You're going to yell at me again.
R: No, I'm not. I just want you to understand.
MLB: You're going to yell and I won't even get ice cream. You already yelled and I didn't get any.
R: No, I won't--
MLB: I'm supposed to get ice cream. Mommy always gets me ice cream when she slips.
R: I won't yell at you.
MLB: Promise?
R: Yes. I promise.
MLB: Well, the thing is . . .
R: Yes?
MLB: Blackbirds don't live that long.
R: . . .
MLB: Mrs. Thermon said they only live fifteen to twenty years. So how could it take a hundred years to get there and a hundred to get back?
R: It was a raven.
MLB: Still. That's like a blackbird, you said.
R: . . .
MLB: You're going to yell at me aren't you?
R: . . .
MLB: I mean, maybe it's this family of ravens that fly to the mountain?
R: Maybe. Yes, that's it. It's a family.
MLB: Except they'd have to stop to nest.
R: . . .
MLB: One time Mommy found a nest of wrens in her hibiscus. She had this hibiscus hanging over the front door, outside, on the porch. And some wrens nested in it. So she had to stop watering the hibiscus because it was scaring the momma bird away.
R: . . .
MLB: Grampa said that's good luck. When a bird nests at your house.
R: . . .
MLB: The eggs had little speckles in them. There were four of them and all four hatched and flew away.
R: That's nice.
MLB: Then Mommy got really sad and said that some day I'll fly away, and she had to go to the bathroom again and when she came out her makeup was messed up around her eyes.
R: Huh.
MLB: Cause she was crying.
R: . . .
MLB: . . .
R: . . .
R: Hey, it's raining. You want some ice cream?
MLB: Okay.
R: Get your coat.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Halfway Down the Stairs, an online journal, just picked up "Crowley's Ridge," a story I've been trying to place for a long time, for their September "Lost and Found" theme issue.

Cricket Online Review picked up a couple poems for an upcoming issue.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

When my third collection, RICELAND, was accepted for publication, it was 63 pages long, minus epigram and thanks. It is now 84 pages. Basically, some of the themes needed to be fleshed out a little. I think it's there, now. After ANTHEM, my second collection, was accepted, I cut 40% of the poems and replaced them, so adding 20-odd pages isn't too bad.

I've had several recent acceptances. decomP. Pank. elsewhere.

I've been working on another poetry collection, YOU HATED US FOR OUR WINGS SO WE NEVER FLEW. It's around 70 pages. The chapbook GOODBYE TO NOISE, which appeared at and the mini-chap TEXAS, forthcoming from Mud Luscious Press, are both included in this manuscript. It's pretty tight. I've started shopping it around a bit. I'm looking for presses. I had a nice rejection from Silenced Press a while back.

I put together a collection of ten ten-minute plays as well. I'm calling it TEN. It's just shy of 100 pages. Some of the plays have appeared in Arkansas Literary Forum, Oregon Literary Review, Bent Pin, Opium, and elsewhere. I haven't shopped ot around yet. I have one place lined up to send it.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

"Here I can only say that in the people of this country you care most for, pretty nearly without exception you must reckon in traits, needs, diseases, and above all natural habits, differing from our own, of a casualness, apathy, self-interest, unconscious, offhand, and deliberated cruelty, in relation towards extra-human life and toward negroes, terrible enough to freeze your blood or break your heart or to propel you toward murder; and that you must reckon them as "innocent" even of the worst of this; and must realize that it is at least unlikely that enough of the causes can ever be altered, or pressures withdrawn, to make much difference."

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men,
--James Agee

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Feeding the Fish

My father woke before dawn to feed the fish
fed me if I rose early enough and caught him
runny eggs, coffee, under-done bacon
while he sat reading westerns at the kitchen table
so quiet Death would’ve tiptoed

The morning washed over the dirty white curtains
watched me stand just behind his back
working towards the courage
to ask for more toast

Then into his truck the sun so bright through the dust
of the morning I closed my eyes to all things
sat in the cab while he stacked 50 pound bags of fish feed
back bent
strong like the arc
of a sledgehammer

Later I climbed
scared / tired / cold into the aluminum boat
watched his hard arms move
all around us till it looked best
everything blue / warming / his slit bag
dribbling food over the side like sand pouring
through his rusted hands

Fish trailed us like children
until winter
when they lay fat from our food
and we dragged our nets

(Originally published in Blue Collar Review, 2004, I think)

Notes: This poem was heavily influenced by Besmilr Brigham, though more narrative than she tends to be. Of course, you can't really see the form, here. This is one of my favorites from Riceland. I keep coming back to it. I love the images from my childhood--Dad loading bags of fish feed, dawn rising over the Lake (our name for the overgrown stock pond) the smell and taste of water in the air.
Afternoon Walk

I found them in the shade
of an old oak. The cow moaned

on its belly, tried to lift
its weight on one leg, but slipped

in the mud, the leaves,
and its own blood which stained

the valley floor. My father, alone, red
skinned as that blood, too focused to even

cuss anymore, murmured
soothing words as he struggled

to secure a harness impossibly
around the shoulders of the calf still

halfway inside its mother. An old
rust-colored tractor idled on the other end

of the harness. He pulled, one foot
on the cow's rump, the calf

struggling, my father frantic
until he saw me. "Tractor!"

he yelled. I moved, never mind the fear,
the blood, never mind that I couldn't drive it.

He barked orders, steered me as though I were
an engine, my arms, the gear-shift,

my feet, the peddles. I eased
forward, watched him hang,
both feet on the cow, his whole body pulling

as I kept the wheel straight. The calf
moved; the cow lowered its head

as though concentrating on a difficult thought. The calf
squeezed out and, suddenly free, landed

on my father, who fell to the ground, laughing,
dragged by the harness which jerked forward

as the tractor lurched
into the oak and stalled out.

(Originally appeared in Barnwood, 2008 I believe)

Notes: I wrote this probably in 2007 or 2008. It is one of the newest poems in the collection. I felt I needed more portraits of farm life for the collection.
James Earl Ray

We didn't mind the day off
from school, but we refused solemnity, refused
to let them think they'd been proven right
by martyrdom we were ashamed
of nothing.

We joked in the halls—
It's James Earl Ray Day, no school Monday!
And smiled when we saw the black kids

I'm thinking about this years
later, in an ATM drive through—a sign says Closed
For Lee King Day. Who's he? I wonder
before I realize they've buried
Dr. King's name behind Southern

I'm older, now, but that dumb and mean
kid I used to be still has his friends
to hide behind. I consider moving
my account, but the bank is closed until tomorrow.
I have to wait
and sit with this.

(Originally appeared in The Arkansas Review, 2007 or 2008)

Notes: All true. The language in this poem is somewhat awkward, but I think the message is important.
When I was 15

Summer was hanging around our necks like a noose
when Karen and I decided to run away.
We sat on her bed, watching
her little brother watch us. She'd mouth,
"Save me," and I'd nod.

“Dad paid me ten bucks so you
don’t fuck,” her brother said every few seconds.
“Call him Dan, Dad lives across
town,” she would say.

“If you want to make out,
I won’t tell,” he’d say and we'd kiss like fugitives.
Thirty seconds would pass, and he'd settle
his brown eyes on us like a vulture.
“Take me to the store to get some candy,
or I’ll tell Dad you were fucking in here.”

All we needed was a ride somewhere
they’d be too lazy to follow.
When her brother got off work, we went
over to his place and sat on his couch
while he talked about his tats. He had a chain
from his ears to his nose, his nose to his nipples,
and down to his dick. I stood
while she went to use the bathroom,
like I’d seen them do in old movies.
“You must really love her,” her brother said
and I sat back down to the quiet of her absence.

After a couple hours we realized he
was a dead end. Her Dad lived next door, though.
He sat on the sofa, drank Jack Daniels and told me
about how his new wife
was like fucking a jar of mayo.
"Don’t get married, boy,” he said. “Biggest
mistake you’ll ever make,“ then a drink.
When the bottle was empty, he left.

“There’s a room back here,” Karen said.
“The lights don’t work but it’s private.” Then inside,
holding hands and no one could see. “You’re
so sweet, I’ll do anything to keep you,” she said.

She told me about the scar on her arm where she’d stabbed
herself with an ice pick, about her step father’s ex-cop
hands, about how her mother had never seen him
naked because he weighed over five hundred
pounds, but she had, and I strained her blond hair
through fingers I knew couldn’t save her and listened.

(Originally appeared in Thunder Sandwich, 2004 I think)

Notes: Pretty much says it all.

You wrapped the night around you like a shawl
and said that I never remember.
I watched your lips dance through the words
and didn’t hear a thing.

The wind brushed thin strands of hay colored hair
across your shoulders. You turned away
saying something about the way the lake
captured the light of the moon and held it.
I watched your nipples poke at the cloth of your shirt

as you said, "Love is like the moon and the lake,
two things forever separate
that sink into each other at night."
I nodded slowly.

You said, “love is the greatest teacher in life,
we learn not to share, that's economics,
we learn that the lesser of two evils is still evil, that's politics.”

You said, “all the evils of the world
have been caused by unrealized expectation.”
And I tried to think of something clever,
but all that came to mind
was the time in the back of Stephen’s car
when you asked me to spank you.

I put my arm around your shoulder
and considered my chances of getting oral.
Then you said, “She isn’t even pretty, really.”
"What do you mean," I started to say, but you cut me off.
“I could have you to myself, if I wanted.
You’re like a cat playing with a mouse,
and not letting it die.”

"It's not like that," I said. "Let me explain."
But you leaned in close
and slipped something in my pocket with a,
“Happy anniversary.” I stood dumb
as you drew the moonlight into your eyes like a breath
and said that I never remember.

(Originally appeared in A Little Poetry, 2005)

Notes: This is a very old poem that I've reworked several times. I submitted a version of this to the first workshop I ever took--at the U of Arkansas in 1999 or 2000, but even then, the poem was several years old. I remember one of the other students, a maybe 40 year old guy, said he didn't believe I wrote the first/last lines, but he googled it and couldn't find it so either I got it from something really obscure, or maybe I actually wrote it. This blew my mind. Later, I spent about five minutes talking about a line "darken my doorway" in his poem--how original, however did you come up with that phrase? It was a poem about his dog, by the way. This is something I noticed many times in workshops--seemingly out of nowhere, classmates (and professors) would dump truckloads of vitriol on me. It took several years before I realized why. I'm not saying I was always caring and considerate towards others' work, but I always applauded honest effort.
My Sister's Hair in 3 Decades

Late 70's

I have a picture– me, baby brother; inverted as a little blond girl,
my sister who could swing a bat, climb a tree, punch
like any boy, holding me safe in her lap.
Her missing front tooth, hair
brown, down to her shoulders
because Mom wouldn't let her cut it shorter.
She spent years trying to pet dad's cows,
gave up and planted flowers in the yard
until the cows found them and nipped off their heads.

Late 80's

The name "Menudo" written on the carport
in shoe polish. The smell
of ozone dying in big sticky curls that will not move.
My sister, Little Mini-ha-ha (Dad's nickname), her hair
no longer tangled with brambles, turned black
as a raven's coat. Room full of noise
and friends I don't like. Boys
who haven't done as much as they'd like to think,
making jokes everyone understands, but no one wants
to. One of them went to prison for beating another boy
to death with a baseball bat. Another died
of a drug overdose. Me, interloper, curious,
lingering outside her door.
"Go away," she says. "I'm busy."

Late 90's

The day I get my first apartment, my sister
comes over with bags of cleaning supplies, soap,
"Stuff you'll forget you need," she says, all
generic brands costing more
than she can afford, working poor with three kids.
Her hair straight, smart, deep black
with grey lines appearing like moonlight
reflected on water.

She hands me the bag, and I'm
little again, playing the baker's man in her lap–
she dangles but doesn't drop me
on that old couch at Dad's house–
the one they threw out years ago.

(Originally appeared in Paper Street, 2008)

Notes: I wanted to write a poem for my sister. I wrote a couple that made it into Riceland, but this is her favorite.
Walking Through My Father’s Fields, Home

The windows creaked from the heat
the day they bundled my mother up
and hauled her off like an old Christmas tree,
taking only a couple of suitcases
and her sickness with her; this dying stranger
who hadn't left the house
since before I could remember, and whom I'd sat watch over
for more than my 15 years – watched her whither
like a lake bed, until I was sure there was nothing left of her but dust.

Dad said,
“We’re taking her to the hospital.”
I pulled on pants good enough for town, and shoes,
as my father and brother led her out the door,
half the time carrying her and her confused moans
to the old International truck. I climbed in the back.

My father drove faster than usual,
which still wasn't very fast,
past the barn, the sheds and tractors, the fields.
I heard my brother say that the silage looked sparse,
and my father, that it'd gotten scorched by the drought
and we'd be lucky if it lasted the cows through winter.
I scanned the yellow blighted field and nodded as we rattled

down the long gravel road
peopled by cows that'd jumped the fence
which we didn’t stop for. I watched them
grow small and quiet behind us
until the trees gave out, and the gravel
turned into asphalt with a bump.
The fields became houses.

The edge of our land bordered the county hospital.
We pulled into the cracked and ugly asphalt parking lot and waited
while Dad went to get an orderly.
Behind us stretched corn – I could barely make out the cows
grazing in the field – and beyond that the road, then the pasture,
and hills. Somewhere back there was the house,
just a mile or so away.

I turned back to the truck as they came for her.
My brother walked over to me
and pointed off to the south to the nursing home
they'd just built on a corner of layout ground
that used to be ours. That’s where they'd take her
when she was all checked in, he meant.

We'd brought her into town so she could die proper.
If she made it through the year, she'd be able to see
our winter wheat outside her window and maybe think of home.
“Dad’s finishing it all up,” my brother said, “we can go.”
I nodded and glanced at the truck.

Instead, we walked to the barbed wire fence,
which was overgrown with a wall of trees and weeds.
We scaled it and plodded through the still young corn,
not speaking, growing slowly separate
as we spread out to drive the cows
back to pasture.

(Originally appeared in Lifelines, 2004, I think)

Notes: Another one from Miller Williams' class. I was told, by my classmates, that this isn't a poem because it's too long. I was also told that narrative is dead in poetry. Maybe this is true. But artists can't be zebras--blending in is safe, but it dooms you to obscurity. I actually cut a page or so from it. My classmates asked me not to submit anything else in the class after this one. It was approaching finals time, and I'd made my required submissions for the class. I believe the next week I turned in two poems. Like I've said, I applauded honest effort in the work of others, but I've always abhored laziness.

Chris Fullerton, who was in the class, and I looked the other day to see if we could find any publications from anyone else from that class. We found a technical writer and one guy who wrote a fictional biography of an obscure musician. Kind of sad. I wonder if they even read anymore.

I learned a lot from Miller Williams and in spite of many of my classmates. By the following year I was getting work published in nationally recognized journals. I will never forget when I had poems picked up by Nimrod, my first real publication, and Skip Hays (the Creative Writing guru of U of A) shook my hand and started introducing me to the grad. students and faculty. I was on staff of the school's literary journal that year as well. This caused a couple of my old classmates to no longer speak to me. It was around this time I began to realize why they had such animosity towards me. My buddy Jake Swearingen summed it up best: "I try to avoid other writers," I believe was the line.

So I've been working on Riceland for around a decade, but only seriously for about half that time. Since I started writing these poems (and I pretty much always envisioned them as a collection) I've written and published two other collections, completed a third, and the bulk of a fourth, aside from all the fiction, nonfiction, etc. But I kept plugging away on Riceland. I'm nervous about it. I want it to be perfect. It's not and never will be. But I've sat on it long enough. It's scheduled to come out this fall.

When I was a boy, I heard roaches sing.
It happened after Mom got sick.
Dad worked long hours and stayed 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
where 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’d felt water moccasins
stroke my leg like fingers as they swam past,
felt the shovel dribble mud down my back
like a heavy breeze seen the dull gray levies
that stretched out before me that day
and would the next,
felt the weight of my father’s tired muscles
as we dragged him from his truck to bed;
but 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 could crawl into bed,
press my face against the wall
and listen.

(Originally appeared in Nimrod and Story South (2003) due to the fact that Nimrod rejected it and then, a year later, inexplicably published it after it had already appeared in Story South)

Notes: I wrote this in an undergrad. Poetry Workshop taught by Miller Williams at the U. of Arkansas. This is when I became a poet. I felt that a lot of my classmates were more talented than me, but at the same time, they were writing about really inconsequential topics ('One time I went to Paris...', 'I'm independant, now, even though my parents pay my rent,' etc.) But so was I. I was writing about myself as a 20-something, that most boring of ages to someone who isn't 20-something. Even I was bored by my writing. So I decided to write about the farm on which I was raised and certain things from my childhood, which, frankly, I'd avoided writing about before for various reasons. This poem was really my first FUCK YOU (politely as possible) to everyone in that class, including myself. I had never been to Paris, but I had been to the rice fields. It's still self-absorbed, but at least it's not about patchouli. It's true, by the way.

The Pig Farmer

The old black man who came for fish guts
wouldn’t step in the door of my father‘s fish shop.
He parked his tattered truck, faded
to that gray color Death’s old clothes must be,
stood outside and waited while my father hefted
the gut tubs on his shoulder one at a time,
and handed them out.
Then the old man dumped them in the back of his truck
with a look on his face like we were living wrong.

It shamed me.
When my father passed the second tub out to him,
I followed and took a good look at the truck and the mass
of fish bones, heads, and fins. There was no tailgate;
he had to pile the guts up right behind the cab or they’d fall out.
Even then, I bet he had to drive real slow.

Inside the fish shop, there was blood. The floor was worn
a dirty lavender, broken up by yellow dots of fly poison,
except for two perfect circles of clean concrete
where the gut tubs had been.

The old man set the empty tub down. My father
handed him the third one. After he’d emptied it,
the old man threw a nod at my father
and had to crank his truck four times
before it started. I stood outside while my father
washed blood off the floor with a hose,
letting the water drain outside in a dirty stream.
He scrubbed until the concrete shone like river mud,
and brought the tubs in, the first two at once, then the third.

Pig-smell hung in the air from the old man
like Absalom in a tree. Soon, it would be supplanted by the stink
of fish. I imagined it stuck to my clothes and would linger
no matter how often they were washed.
Inside, my father sat down to read the paper.

(Originally appeared in Nimrod, 2003)


I think this poem also came from a workshop. I was trying to capture a scene, but also something about race relations that I'm not totally sure survived the subsequent drafts. The joke, here, as that to an outsider, the Pig Man and my father & I would've all appeared poor, dirty, etc., which we were. There's no real difference. Originally, the poem ended with the lines:

I wonder if my father knew the Pig-Man looked down on us.
I wonder if it mattered in the slightest.

I cut them because they seemed to labor the point.


We sat in line,
a dozen trucks
in front, a dozen behind,
all grey or faded
red, the colors
of dust, rust, time.
Rice chaff filled our lungs,
covered our clothes, our faces;
we could hardly tell brown
from pink. All of us swarthy,

My brother's arm, thick
as oak, thrown
over the window
sill of the truck door, his
cap pushed back.
I reached up, lifted
my new Riceland cap
my father had given me the day
before and smoothed
my hair, as I'd seen him do,
trying to look

Beside us,
beyond us, the sky
stretched blue, the land
stretched green, all rice
fields, all flooded with color.
My brother fiddled
with the radio, found only
country, switched it off, tapped
his fingers twice and turned it back on.
"Old piece of shit," he said.
"Piece of crap," I said.

We pulled up,
got out. My brother went in. I stood
aside, seeing for the first time
the dryers towering,
concrete colored, the tallest
things in the world.

My brother came out, ash faced,
a wad in his hand he hid
quickly like he was ashamed.
"Wait all fucking day for four and a half,"
he said and pulled
up to dump the load
while I practiced

On the ride back
to the field, we topped out
at a rumbling forty, listened to more
country music,
watched the land slide
by like clouds. I was learning
to complain, learning
impatience with the enthusiasm
of a dog chasing a stick.

My uncle in the combine
met us and we waited
while the radio twanged.
"Come on, now," I said, pleased
to be the first to complain.
My brother scowled
and said nothing.

(Originally appeared in The Arkansas Review, 2008, I think)

Notes: Much like the Beatles' song, "A Hard Days Night," I wrote this poem after naming the project. Jillian named the collection, actually. It worked perfectly. The poem is mugh lighter than pretty much anything in Riceland.

The Old Ways

When I got home from school,
the calf was already hanging
by its tendons from an old single-tree hitch.
My father held a Budweiser in one hand,
a butcher knife in the other.
He tossed my backpack to the side,
like things were about to happen.

I tried to nod on cue as he explained
the hanging job, the right way to cut the meat.
He talked about the good old days when he was a boy,
how they made shoes out of the hide
and wasted nothing

And I watched, brother; I drank in every drop
of blood, sweat, and BS he threw out.
I painted my father‘s sure hands
somewhere permanent inside me,
the way his knife slid through the calf’s flesh
like it was smoke.

And when he passed the blade to me,
I did my best not to chew the meat up too badly.
He nodded, acting satisfied
as I worried the hide off the thing,
glancing at him to call me off
before I made a mess of it.
After a while, he stepped up and slid its coat off.
I stepped back, sweaty.

Then I ran to get the water hose
and cleared the guts off the grass
after he’d finished. I tried to stand
in the same top-heavy lean as my father
and admire an afternoon’s work,
like a man would.

He walked over to the cooler,
got out a Budweiser and handed it to me,
like I was finally his son.
I pulled the tab and metal tongue out
and drank it down.

When we went inside–
my father shining like a knife blade–
I went into the bathroom, locked the door
and puked it all out.

(Originally appeared in Apalachee Review and later in the Bottom Dog Press Anthology Family Matters: Poems of Our Families)

Notes: Another workshop poem from Miller William's class. I wasn't actually coming from school when this happened, but I thought it was a nice juxtaposition. Also, beer was never a hard thing to acquire around my father.

Monday, August 10, 2009

It's time to come clean, country music! All that talk of broken hearts is bullshit. What these songs really mean is: you're really hot, but you're boring. I want to screw you, but I can't stand to be around you. And when I actually do screw you, half the time, you just lay there. Because being a good lay is about being aware of the other person. Which, let's be honest, is something that doesn't really happen naturally (especially if you're focusing all your energy on your hair). And really attractive people often have little in the way of personality, because personality is something that has to be developed and nurtured, and if you've had no reason to do that, it won't happen. Why develop a sense of humor when you can succeed in life by being handsome, for example? This doesn't mean that the morbidly obese goth girl/boy is a better lay--s/he might be just as self-absorbed and boring as the jock/cheerleader. But it does mean that the really hot person is probably not much of a converstionalist.

This is what teenage angst is all about: delayed gratification. Having to look around and find someone who is really hot and a good lay and is capable of inteligent conversation. Unfortuantely, if you're one of the self-absorbed types, you might have to put a little work into yourself first. Good luck with that.

So, Country Music, take all that, break it into stanzas, add an annoying twang, and get over yourselves. And seriously, quit it with the black leather.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

(From a note left in a mousetrap ostensibly from a mouse):

Give Us the Feta or the Girl Gets It.