A little girl lives below me and cries
every day. I thought she must be sick,
or they beat her. My daughter used
to cry like that when I put her to bed,
and I was sure the neighbors would call
the cops. This was back when people
in the building across from us regularly shot
at each other, set fires, little boys yelled,
“Hey Honkey!” at us when we walked
to the playground. The little crying girl’s
older sister played with my daughter
for hours one Saturday. My daughter
brought the littlest girl to my bathroom,
bleeding. She never speaks around me,
but she smiled when my daughter put on
the princess bandage and gathered snacks
so they could watch a movie in the girls’
apartment. I kept my door, my windows,
open, kept going out into the hall to listen.
They treated her like a queen. The older girl
gave my daughter a pretty box with beads
and a little doll in it and a note that said, “You
will be apriciated.” Their father opens
the door when he sees me coming to the building.
A lot of the neighbors do. Nights, he’ll sit
on the stoop, smoking, unless
the ICE agents are making raids.
Her hair is a tangled field of sweet straw
knocked crooked in heavy winds, catching
any light that stumbles nearby. Maybe this
is why she radiates heat, when I’m trying
to nap, sick, on the couch and she perches high
on my side watching screaming cartoons. Dazzled
strangers stop us on sidewalks to remind us
in case we’ve forgotten: life isn’t always gray. It’s not.
Bees follow us to get at the pollen they can smell
trapped in the mess. I thump them away
when they get too close and scare her. If I had time,
I’d learn to collect their honey, walk her through
the sweetest fields, open a boutique to pay
for college. But I can barely remember to stop smiling
long enough to thank the policeman for the speeding
ticket most mornings. Brushes are an enemy to her,
the confining toil of hair ties lead to tears. Stickers lost
are found. Twigs. Fuzz. All of it down the drain after
the bath water has straightened her locks. It won’t last.
A girl once told me the moon wasn’t the moon
when it’s visible during the day; it’s Venus.
I believed her because I wanted it to be love.
I’m always mistaking the movements
of the planets for something meaningful. Things
are always falling, and if they’re fast or far
enough, they look like fire. The problem
is when you try to catch them and find
there’s nothing but ashes left, littering
the ground, melting everyone’s soles. That girl
was fire, and all I could do was make
a wish as she fell. They never come true.
She taught me that, also.
Artist Statement: A friend once said we’re writers because we’re damaged in such a way that this is how we communicate best. This is definitely true for me. Writing is how I process my thoughts and feelings about things and try to figure out how to live in the world. Lately, much of my time is consumed by my daughter. This is a very good thing. It helps me get out of my head. So, I’ve been writing about parenting a lot. It’s a good way to catalog our experiences and to examine them for insight. A couple of these poems are from a manuscript I’m working on about my daughter and my experiences parenting. A lot of the poems in that manuscript were written during some pretty bleak times, but I think there’s hope in them.
CL Bledsoe is the author of seventeen books, most recently the novel The Funny Thing About… and the poetry collection, Trashcans in Love. Recent work appears in Contrary, The Arkansas Review, and Barrelhouse. He co-writes the blog “How To Even…” with Michael Gushue: https://medium.com/@howtoeven. Bledsoe lives in northern Virginia with his daughter.