Collaborative Poetry: “In a Late Stage” by Tony Mancus & CL Bledsoe

Poetry: Tony Mancus & CL Bledsoe

In a Late Stage

It’s not a question of outrunning
the bear; it’s a question
of perfectly seasoning the salmon.

A man with no hair and a bag
full of herbs is slightly less
dangerous than a clutch of piranha.

The equation starts with a sound
unlike thunder, someone screaming
numbers into a small bowl.

Arrange them just right, and you’ll have
the answer to mayonnaise, wrong, and you’ll break
time into its component colors.

The bowl rings and rings,
but nobody answers—it’s just like prayer
in the face of a handgun.

Gods wear our words out
into their gala for the flashbulbs
and newscasters.

We are, all of us, lining
the carpet, begging to hear
our children’s voices again,

but all that comes out
is the smack of flashbulbs,
and the smiles, the smiles.

In a Late Stage

The key to success is hoarding
oxygen and being seen as different
enough from an arthropod that you won’t

end up in Red Lobster. The key
to success is watering your followers
and stamping each leaf you encounter

with instructions on how best
to prepare the traditional cuisine
of your people, i.e. Hot Pockets

on a bed of Doritos. The sandbaggers
chasing you are simply trying
to create a beach scene with their grit

and heavy loads, but nothing is really
simple, if even for a photo. They’ll kill
you if they can, but be sure to ask

nicely. It’s important to maintain
relationships. Send thank you cards
to the worms, for example, even

though they’re just doing their jobs.
The key to success is thanking those
who will destroy you, regardless

of the form they take—your children
or the locusts—you’ll join them soon
enough if you navigate correctly.

In a Late Stage

We’re bred to be
graters, sloughing
our neighbor’s finer
selves off
to fertilize the soil, regrets
in all our creases.

Salt of the earth, they say,
and we bend to kiss its cube—
lipsticky and childish like
the first time we learned
that trust is a weapon,
seeking the softer parts.

Through the window, smell
tomorrow’s mistakes, honeysuckle
and bourbon, a stranger boiled
down to a series of gestures
his family wouldn’t recognize,
given their scale and tempo.

The flag that’s meant to burn
in his hand, a nation unto itself.
We stand close to the freezer door,
our single shadow confused
as to which light source to trust
and which to melt away from.

In a Late Stage

A blanket with holes shot through, each
stained with a child’s blood, draped
across the skyscrapers. Maybe
this time. Maybe this time, as they thud
to asphalt. Eggshell and plaster casts.
There is a chill over everything, and good luck
finding parking outside
the pastor’s office. So we try calling
the snakes he handles on days like this
by their given names. We press on
with my wheels stalled. A porthole
to stick our limbs through and have
them caressed by strangers. The film of egg
white on the sidewalk, a forked tongue
salting the air. Weakness
gets the fang, but no one’s taking trade-ins
this late in the season. Remembrance
of failed ambition falls from the sky
like a bucket of guts. People step around
it, frantically trying to hear their voicemail. Maybe
this time.

In a Late Stage

The problem with bootstraps is I’m wearing
sandals. How else to show off my pedicure?

I’m not going to bore you with the fish lips
and shellac it required, but the problem

with pedicures is no one can see them when
they’re looking at my face or the sky

or anything other than the floor. Even then,
I’ve got to soft-shoe, a red-dot laser pointer

to draw their attention. It’s a lot of work to be
adored. We were talking about the difference

between being born into it and having to knife-
back it. There’s a story that once upon a time,

you could trade your cow for magic beans.
Have you seen the price of beans these days?

Hardly worth the irrigation. And don’t get me
started on the cow trade, but please let me know

when you’re on your way home from the revolution—
I could really use a nice Epsom salt soak

and the bathtub clog has started to name itself.
I can only carry so much water given my shoe

choice and this dancing I’m doing.

Tony Mancus is the author of a handful of chapbooks. He lives with his wife Shannon and three yappy cats in Colorado and serves as chapbook editor for Barrelhouse.

CL Bledsoe is the author of seventeen books, most recently the poetry collection King of Loneliness and the novel The Funny Thing About… He lives in northern Virginia with his daughter and blogs at (with Michael Gushue).

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