Monday, February 09, 2015

Arkansas Poems

My last poetry collection, Riceland, took more than a decade to write. It was a focused, cohesive collection, I like to think, and after it was published, I started thinking about all the stories and ideas from my childhood and hometown I hadn't included for various reasons. I'd already written a kind of sequel to Riceland called Driving Around, Looking in Other People's Windows, which is coming out later this year. It focuses on my young adult life, marriage, the birth of my daughter, and the subsequent breakup of that marriage. But it doesn't focus on my hometown really at all. Those stories kept nagging me, so about a year ago, I started writing some of them. I was going through one of the darkest periods in my life, so it was good to look back, but I think the artistry of those early drafts suffered because of all the distractions. But slowly, I've been revising and sending them out. And I'm going to collect a few of the published ones here. Bear in mind that these are just the poems that have been published or accepted for publication. This is 15 out of 75 or 80 poems, and these aren't necessarily the best, though they are some of the more universal ones.

"After He Sobered Up" and "Cows" appeared in Gravel.

Atticus Review featured me back in December along with a couple poems from the manuscript. There's a lovely introduction along with "How to Recycle a Farm Truck," "Tea," and "Etiquette." Another poem, "Hair," which is from Driving Around, appears in this issue.

"Bread Crumbs" should've been in Riceland but didn't make the cut. It was originally in Arkansas Literary Forum. I'm pasting the revised version:

Bread Crumbs
by CL Bledsoe

My brother’s soul was all vermilion and fried chicken, grease
stains sweated through his aura and dribbled behind him
like the path of a slug. I tried to walk in his footsteps, slipped
and slid behind him, sometimes to the ground, sometimes right
into his back. He would turn, grab my arm and lift me up
like so much laundry in the air. Up there I could see his bald patch, eggs
in the bird’s nest in the ceiling of our porch who thanked their mothers
they were born sparrow, gnawed bones spread over miles
like the corpses of winds. He would set me down, hold
me until I was steady, my arm in the air saluting, then turn, plod forward
and never fall. There were children in foreign lands starving
for what fell from him, starving for the air he ate like chocolate.
* * *

"Good Intentions" was in the Kentucky Review.

"Frogs" appeared in Poetry Quarterly. No link so I'll post it:

by CL Bledsoe

He made the mistake of leaving her
alone in the truck while he went to check
on the integrity of the levees. She waited
a good fifteen minutes before she put on
man-sized boots, waded out after him,
and got stuck in the saturated soil.

They say you can dive underwater
and a moccasin will pass overhead,
but when she saw one slither across the top
of the water, she didn’t bother testing
this hypothesis and instead set to hollering
until dad returned, neatly chopped
the thing in half with his shovel, yanked
her free and carried her back to the truck.

This time, she stayed only five before
climbing out and finding a slough on the edge
of the field exploding with thousands of baby
frogs. That’s where he found her, some
time later, looking up at him with big
dark eyes and offering him a tiny frog in her hand.

* * *

"Funnel Cloud" appeared in Emerge Literary Journal. No link, so here it is:

Funnel Cloud
by CL Bledsoe

Lightning crackles, illuminating the dark
clouds, swirling black and purple, blue
and gray. My sister and I, propped, all

scabby knees and elbows, on our parents’
bed, watch the churning air. The cloud dips
at the bottom of the hill, sprouts a trunk

that reaches for the ground in hunger
but withdraws, finding only dirt. The gyre
spins, rises back into the air and moves

closer. The lightning is gone. We see
nothing but dark until a white crash reveals
the whirling dervish just outside the window

with a delicious tremble, stretching down, buoyed
by the wind. It passes above us, out of sight.
Darkness settles outside again full of grumbling

thunder, chattering rain, violence we can’t name.
Somewhere behind us, a crash.

* * *

Floodwall ran one called "Hard Times, Arkansas."

Right Hand Pointing ran a couple. Here's "War with Korea." They also ran one called "A Good One," but I revised it pretty heavily, so I'm pasting the newer version:

A Good One
by CL Bledsoe

Dad, swaying, drink in hand, shit-eating grin
smeared across his face as he tells a nasty joke.

Mom, lips pursed, trying to catch any non-
laughing eyes to share her distaste. He’d say,

“Just go to bed.” And when that didn’t work,
“Why don’t you just laugh? Everyone else is.”

* * *

Several have been accepted but not published yet. Cahaba River Literary Journal picked up "Flagging," "It Was Quiet, There," and "Something about Lightning and a Young Girl's Heart." "The Path" was picked up by Concho River Review and is forthcoming.