By CL Bledsoe
I lost my virginity to an armadillo
named Brenda. Have you
ever been to Texas? Try finding something
other than armadillos to sleep with.
Then tell me something
about love, funny pants.
Strange men came to the door, begging
for gluten-free bread. We never turned anyone away,
unless they had no money. Sometimes we made
them dance and play songs, but only
when we were really bored.
My mother robbed banks, wore ugly clothes,
and discriminated against peoples whose cultures
she didn’t understand. My father had sex
with strangers for money. On Sundays,
we’d hitch the mules to the Packard
and head for the drive-through
liquor store. Sometimes, we stopped
at the adult movie theatre
to watch Aunt Diablo’s new films. There were
always bananas in those days, oranges
tasted sweet and sticky.
We watched movies about drought
on TV. Sometimes, the dust clogged the AC
and we had to turn it up. We watered the lawn
with bottled water and went days
without playing in the sprinklers.
The first cream I ever bought was from an employee
owned milk machine. It was supposed to be a time
machine, but roads don’t drive. There’s no
way to go back to Texas except to lie. Even
then, you’ll need a boat to get clear of the mud.
Summers we spent waiting for fall,
winters we spent waiting for spring.
Days were long until they grew short.
We washed our faces and no one knew.
My cousin had a truck garden,
but he couldn’t seem to get the tires to flower.
I told him he was living
a pun and he hit me in the face
with a tire iron.
I left Texas as a young, lovesick heliotrope,
nodding towards any light I found. Brenda was long
since run over. I remember her spinning
in her shell on the cracked asphalt, calling
my name. I don’t think
she ever forgave me for leaving.
That was before it was illegal
to cross the road without a warrant.
When pizza was delivered in a timely
manner and could be counted
upon to have not been spit upon.
We didn’t trust blacks, Latinos, Asians, Jews,
whites, women, gays, straights, frigids,
people named Bill, Samantha, Clark.
People with eyes too close together, too
far apart, perfectly symmetrical, brown,
blue, green, red, or hazel.
As boys, we learned to kill
our prey quickly and cause as little
suffering as possible. On the way
home from hunting, we’d stop for
fried chicken, never thinking
how their beaks had been burned
off, they were kept in tiny
cages, pumped full of antibiotics
to keep them from dropping dead.
My parents expected me to learn
something from all the money they spent
on education. I learned: sleep in.
Nights, we’d lie on our trucks and watch the moon
bears dance. Jimmy always made the same
joke about honeycombs in space.
He’s long since dead, now,
gone to jail and raped in the shower.
I remember the first time he came
home, itching from the crabs;
his mom wouldn’t let him sit down
on her couch. She cried and cried
as he knocked politely on the back door.
We stayed up late and slept till noon,
watched TV until dark and never came out-
side until the melting eyes of the sun
had drooped into sleep. Breakfasts were
microwaved warm and greasy; we though mystery
meant keeping our hair full of smoke.
The air was always full of rot and offal.
Smoke-stink filled our lungs
and we complained about corporations’
rights when we could catch our breath.
We bullshitted on porches,
in front of trailers, tossed
empties into the backs of pickups
and took them to the recycling plant
at the end of the month for rent money.
We lived on goose liver, frog legs, quail
Eggs, and toast. Some days, we weren’t able
to have quiche so we starved. Standards
must be maintained.
Days were set on random
play so our homework was always
late. We tried to tell our mothers
they were appreciated, our fathers,
they were feared.
We all piled out to watch the crane shots
when the film crew came to tell the story
of the girl who jumped from the water
tower. None of us knew her name or even
where she’d come from, but we frowned
on queue, manufactured tears whenever
she was mentioned. She could’ve been
any stranger, a masturbation fantasy
on a calendar, the girl we never knew,
never apologized to for not falling in love.
In the big city, everyone is armed. But in Texas,
we know how to shoot.
All the dogs we loved were killed by our uncles
our fathers, who never learned to fetch.
Our mothers owned cats missing legs,
sometimes heads. Out brothers owned
hamsters, our father’s horses were long
Only track stars were virgins,
also, the ugly ones, and the ones
who didn’t have sex. All of us
spent long nights watching Hee Haw,
pillows over our bulging pants, Lulus
waiting in the other room.
My brother had a collection of carved water
chestnuts dating from the sixties. He called them
Tang Dynasty because most of them were carved
by a budding astronaut who flunked out of the program
because of the arthritis he developed from the intricate
carving work. My brother’s wife found them
and served them to my brother’s coworkers
at a company party before he was laid off.
He calls those his salad days.
Looking back, I can see the bones inside those days
as though they had flashlights under their chins.
I can tell you there’s no such thing as justice
because I sit, I stand, I walk, I sleep long nights.
Dust tastes sweet the way yeast
smells sweet. The sun bakes skin
the way grass grows in unattended fields.
The sky is bigger than the land. Buildings
know their place.
I spell the end out in three letters —
one I will never send, one I will tear into little bits
and use to line the cage I keep tomorrow in. The
other, I will never eat, never read, never save.