CL Bledsoe

Two Bits

Burton the barber would bop the chair with his hard
barrel gut to turn it, his quick scissors never seeming
to pause as his mouth kept time with a steady stream

of lies about his service in Vietnam, land he’d bought
in Montana, a car dealership he owned in Ohio. I never
saw him use an electric trimmer, though. He started

in a nice enough shop downtown by the tracks, near
where Mitchell’s Grocery used to be, with two or three
ancient arcade machines in a back room—Mario Brothers,

Donkey Kong, maybe Pac Man. He had a kitchen teeming
with roaches and made us promise not to tell the owner
he was living there with his two awkward sons. A few months

later, he moved two blocks over so he was facing the park,
a lot full of trash they later cleared out to make way for an old
caboose to celebrate the founding of the town when a car

fell off the tracks. The arcade was gone, but we still went
in the hopes he wasn’t lying about bringing it back.
A few months later, he moved to a single room on Falls,

he said to keep ahead of the government. He opened
a tanning booth in the back and filmed the women
who came, sold the tapes to an outfit in Memphis. When

folks found out, they ran him out of town. No more five
dollar haircuts. There was an older guy who’d do it
for four, but he was so slow, it wasn’t worth the wait.

Turn It Down, You Say?

My ninth birthday, maybe my tenth,
we grilled hotdogs out at the park.

I invited two boys, Jeremy and Elmer,
the closest I had to friends. Too cool

to swim or hang out at the beach, we sat
on the swings and bitched about things

we didn’t care about. Their presence was gift
enough, but they gave me Twisted Sister’s

album, “Stay Hungry.” Nancy Reagan said
it was satanic, which was good enough for me.

My brother said the band looked like demented
grandmothers with their makeup and shredded

women’s clothing. I knew better than to even let
my dad see or hear it. I kept it hidden, snuck it

out when no one else was home, and cranked it up
in hopes the devil really might come to claim me;

at least then, I’d be wanted. I even wrote a fan
letter telling them how much more I liked

the album than Aerosmith’s “Toys in the Attic,”
though this was a lie. They sent back a signed

glossy photo with the band members all snarling
in drag. At least I wasn’t into Dio, like my sister;

his songs were all about rainbows and sailing.
How can you call that metal?

© CL Bledsoe

CL Bledsoe is the author of 12 books, most recently the poetry collection, Riceland, and the novel, Man of Clay. He lives in northern Virginia with his daughter.

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