Author: Clare L. Martin

Clare is a poet, editor and teaching artist living in Louisiana. Her debut collection of poems, "Eating the Heart First" is available from Press 53. Also available from Barnes & Noble and Amazon. FMI: www.press53.com

Motherlife

I have happy news to share with you all.  I have known for a few weeks but I got permission to share publicly a bit of news that I was conceived on Valentine’s Day in 1968!  This explains a lot about me and my almost crippling (being facetious) romanticism. Really the fact that I was a Valentine’s Day baby makes me feel all kinds of wonderful, and I thank my mom for letting me share this with the world. She did ask me however to keep the details of the actual conception confidential.  Ha!

I visited with my mother for a little while today and she read a poem to me dedicated to a deceased loved one that meant something to her.  She pulled it out of a Ziploc bag that had neatly folded sheets of newspaper clippings. I asked her, “You keep obituaries in a Ziploc bag?” She said, “Yes?” I asked her to give me a moment and I found a piece of paper in my purse and jotted the poem below down. Many of my friends know that my mother is always asking me why I haven’t written any poems about her. I have cryptically, but this one is in a new vein, and she approved it.

Mother

My mother keeps obituaries
in a Ziploc bag,
neatly-folded reminders of loss.
She always reads the obituaries
first thing in the morning,
before prayers, so that if she knows
anyone, anyone she can pray
for their souls
and the hearts of survivors.

Once at 6:00 am,
as my father handed her
the just-delivered paper,
she told me that the wife
of my favorite professor and mother
of my friend Victor, had died.
I knew Barbara, a poet herself,
had breast cancer
and was close to the end.

I dressed and peeled-out
of the driveway to Dr. V.’s house.
He was shocked to see me
and just shook his head and said,
“How? How did you know so quickly?”

My mother slips a thin
piece of newspaper
out of the plastic bag and says
it has been ten years
since my firstborn’s death.
This stops me, so I pet her dog, Demitasse.

How else could I end this poem?

 

©2014 Clare L. Martin

 

 

Reunion, a dream

Reunion, a dream

 

A room full of people:
porn on the TV—
We have to ask a guy to leave
because one, we don’t know him
and two, he whips it out to wank.

I am with a kid from high school
who hasn’t grown an inch
who looks exactly the same
except for the stubble
and the pin-thin lines
at the corners of his eyes.

He mentions the girl,
the woman he loves,
who was my bully
and she bullied him too,
and it is all too fresh—

I hold him in silence.

 

©2014 Clare L. Martin

Nothing like a silent house.

A quick note: This was just written in the last hour while a delicious-smelling gumbo is being tended to by my family and not me, which is new and greatly appreciated. My dear friend Debra and I had an exchange on Facebook earlier and one of her responses prompted this poem.

Blessings, Debra. May you have all the words that need to be written by you.

~Clare

 

 

“Nothing like a silent house”

The books unread
outnumber the ones
that enter me like vines
through brick. How the walls
peel and sigh, I will never know.
The floor muddies after storms
that come like final distractions
before death by fire.

There is cigarette smoke
in the house, but no piano.
To all of us, this place is home.
Sometimes rats shiver me
awake with their mating-grind,
and dry cries seep
out of my own sleep.
I construct fungal nests for the rats.
We know there will be
more, more, more
and they may devour us,
but we let them live: night-lit
companions, sticky and full of rotten figs.

We had a dog once, a puppy
I brought home. I was depressed
and it was something to love me,
but it disappeared after chewing
an antique chair. Gone to that place
where stables burn,
the kicking horses
locked-in, kindled with hay—

I cannot always grasp a poem.
I try and they bend
defensively as I reach. I try again
and words beat me with their wings,
leaving me ransacked and bruised.

There is nothing like a silent house,
and nothing, nothing
in this world like want.

 

©2014 Clare L. Martin

River Dream

214

 

I slip from the edge of a muddy cane field into the Mississippi River with a baby in my arms.  It is my daughter and she is one or two years old. We glide over the water, my bare feet causing small wakes. Sometimes we move by vaulting with a large limb of a tree that carries us farther and faster than our own energies.  We are like wind over the water. We move far and fast; away, away but always the river hungers.

My little girl keeps falling asleep; limps out of my grip into treacheries of the river. She sinks quickly, or sometimes floats just at the surface. I pull her out by her hair. In one part of the dream, we fly through a deep-green stand of trees along the riverbank. The leaves and branches do not ribbon our skin, but I fear flying into their hardwood bodies. I tighten my grip on my girl. Sometimes she laughs, enjoying herself on this great adventure. I don’t know why we don’t smack right into a trunk. Why don’t the trees kill us?

In open air, we meet a woman who can also fly and knows the river. She promises us safety.  She flies with a baby in a carriage chained to her backside. At one point she slips the baby, much younger, much smaller than my own, into a pocket, and unhooks the chain, dropping the carriage into the mud. We fly great distances. The river grows angrier that it cannot have us. We glide close to the bank, sometimes we change course.  In the very middle of the river, the deepest part, I see a half-sunken iron statue of Evangeline; her rusted breasts emerge from water. The flying woman solemnly, weeping, gives us up. She flies to a silent grove to breastfeed her infant.

A man with a boat that is shaped like a deep gumbo bowl with an outboard motor finds us, or rather we find him via a hand-painted wooden sign offering boat tours.  I ask him where we are, tell him I want to go to Youngsville, and that there is a new sports complex with tall, bright lights that might serve as a landmark. He says we are only three miles away. This gives me hope.

Once we are isolated on the water, with no one watching, wind forces its tongue down my throat. Thrice, my only child falls in, and I have to go deeper each time to get her and bring her back to life. She is exhausted, sick from coughing the Mississippi. I keep telling her to hold me tightly, but she doesn’t comprehend enough language, so I grip her with the one goddamn-willing muscle I have left.

The man with the boat starts to ask questions, says he doesn’t have a woman and I seem to be a good one.  From the belly of the boat where I am seated, I see the longed-for lights of the sports complex, not too far away. The man operating the boat continues on the river swiftly, jamming his wrist with a hard twist to increase the motor’s speed. At some point he abandons us wordlessly, waist-deep in a forgettable tributary.

I wake up wanting home, being home and grab a notebook. Write down the bones.

 

4.21.14

All rights reserved

You Will Take a Strange Journey

Wordlab Funny Business

 

So we had a couple of options for our second exercise with Wendy. She gave us the choice to write a fictional biography of ourselves or to write a piece with the narrator as a fortune teller and begin with the sentence: “You will take a strange journey.” I chose the latter, and after the heavy “Ode to a Child Soldier” I/we needed some levity.

szo0256

You will take a strange journey.  Be sure to polish your toenails, but both of your big toes must be a different color from the rest.

Someone will offer you a LARGE SUM OF MONEY.  DO NOT ACCEPT IT!! It is tainted with rancid processed meats that were left in a car for seven days in a Louisiana summer and sprung a leak onto all the hundred dollar bills.

Your journey will require spelunking into an active volcano. I see good things coming from this. You will meet your soul mate down there.

I see a green veil around you and normally I would advise you to practice tantric masturbation but your veil has polka dots, so please, I IMPLORE YOU to do it more and go ahead and finish.  You are way too bottled up.

So we are almost done and I have to tell you that the price I quoted you has gone up since you have been here. It will be $1000 cash-only, paid upon receipt of service, or you won’t be going anywhere, buddy.

 

©2014 CLM

 

Ode to a Child Soldier

Ode to a Child Soldier

 

This child should eat
something more than water
and bone and be clothed
in something other than desolation.
This child should be sung to and sing;
be mourned and praised. He should
know that pulse within himself
when freed makes a sound
we call laughter. He should know it well.

O, my well-armed child
with pockets full of bullets,
run if you can. Bury the gun
in your hand deep and in secret,
even from yourself.

Victim, slave, innocent,
your one life
has been eviscerated
with the purpose
to kill.

I give you this, my hope,
that there are people
who want to dance with you.
There are people, who, in their beds
wonder if you are shod, if you know
your parentage and bless
you in holy, hypnogogic prayer.

 

 

This was written by me today in a session of Acadiana Wordlab led by poet Wendy Taylor Carlisle which had part of its focus on the Ode as a “song of praise.”

©2014 CLM

“Off Qi”

220px-Ki-hanja

 

Off Qi

 

  • I drop a pen on the floor twice within 30 seconds
  • I knock over an open bottle of mouthwash into the cat litter box
  • A drip of coffee like a gentle stroke from a thin sable brush on a white ceramic cup triggers anxiety, but I am wearing white!
  • I fail repeatedly at untying constrictive knots in relationships, but (stubbornly, foolishly, lovingly) keep my hands and heart open
  • Kneeling before false gods, even though I have bad knees.
  • The swerve in my step bumps me into strangers. I can’t walk in a straight line.
  • A pin-mark of black on my finger from a match with an irregularly bulbous sulfur tip; hot candle wax on that finger: the too-brief sting …
  • Emails in languages I cannot understand, but feel must be important because I understand the cognate for “poetry” in them
  • Guilt, guilt, and more guilt.
  • Getting “The Finger” in the parking lot of the fried chicken place
  • The stupidest lyrics of pop songs are sublimated messages to me
  • Roiling, radioactive waters in the kitchen: Dishzilla!

 

 

(According to Wikipedia, in traditional Chinese culture, qi (also chi or ch’i) is an active principle forming part of any living thing. Qi is frequently translated as “natural energy”, “life force”, or “energy flow”. Qi is the central underlying principle in traditional Chinese medicine and martial arts. The literal translation of “qi” is “breath”, “air”, or “gas.”  Mindful-dish-washing might improve my qi).

Blog Tour: Process Talk

 

 

 

What are you working on?

I am working on a second manuscript of poetry with hopes for a second book. When Eating the Heart First (Press 53, 2012) was done and out in the world, I was consumed with promotion of it and became less structured/focused in my writing time. Happily though, Acadiana Wordlab had just formed that same month and regular attendance counted for me getting writing done.  The weekly sessions got me refocused and recharged. I am indebted to Jonathan Penton (Google him) for his vision and work that made this great community/activity thrive. I am the coordinator now, as Jonathan has moved onto other projects. My involvment gives me great pleasure. I give and receive. I am amazed by the wonderful writers who are growing in the Acadiana community and around our state. I have many new poems that have come out of the AW drafting sessions that will hopefully make it into the manuscript.

I have a working title for the manuscript: Broken Jesus.  That title comes from a line in my poem, “Convergence,” which appeared in Louisiana Literature, but the image itself comes from a black and white photograph of a broken marble statue of Jesus on the cross at an abandoned church. Ralph J Schexnaydre, Jr. took that photo back in the 1980s.  The image appeared on the cover of the first literary magazine in which my work was published, my university’s journal, The Southwestern Review.

I still have that journal issue (it came out in 1989, 25 years ago) but sadly Ralph doesn’t have the image anymore. I would have asked him to allow me to use it. I do have in my house a crucifix that was my grandmother’s and grandfather’s that is broken. A limb is missing from Jesus, and perhaps I can have someone photograph it for me down the road as the manuscript shapes up.

How does your work differ from others in its genre?

The work I am drawn to, the poetry that enlivens me is work that is finely crafted, visceral, meaningful, daring, brave, honest, sharp, and lyrical and I hope that my work is these things. I want to be a dauntless writer. I want to be writing new always: pushing myself, going deeper, going harder and reaching more deeply into you, the reader. I don’t know how else to answer this question because if I am not gripped by a poet’s language, attention to craft, willingness to rend hearts and punch guts, with an almost nameless kind of love for you at the same time, I usually put the book down.

Why do you write what you do?

I write to move other human beings with my words.

How does your writing process work?

I used to be strictly tied to typing rather than writing in longhand but since I have been a devotee of Acadiana Wordlab’s mostly pen-to-paper process, I am more attuned to my hands, albeit in a different way than typing letter by letter. This is something new and fun for me, to write out drafts in notebooks. It’s something I had truly not practiced except for note-taking since getting a typewriter, then a word processor, then a computer. The words are moving from my brain to my hands but my hands know more than my mouth does.

In my at-home practice, I usually start with a free-write. I don’t wait for inspiration but because I am a constant reader, I am inspired daily.  Also, those ephemeral voices (that may become lines of poetry) are a grace to which I am sharply attuned.  (It can cause problems to live so far up into your head but I manage to be grounded). A word or phrase may come to me while eating buttered grits or taking a bath, and I get up, write it down, and follow where it leads. I have rushed out of the bath naked (they’ve all seen me naked around here) and gotten on the computer to get words down.  My short term memory is weakening I think.  I also might need to get my bathrobe out of the closet.

Sometimes if I am driving and a line comes, I will pull over and voice-record it on my phone.   But the question of writing process beyond the mechanics of actually writing is that I firmly hold that I cannot call myself a writer if I am not writing. I don’t feel I deserve that name if I am not doing it in some way, and I count many ways: letter-writing, journaling, creative writing, and emails—they qualify too, if they are creatively inspired.

For many years my only writing was letter writing and it was necessary for me to have that one person as an audience.  The three friends I wrote to on a regular basis are now deceased but really I owe them deep thanks for enjoying my letters and writing back. Those correspondences saved me and my writing career, whatever that is or will be, because it kept me writing. Those friends kept me writing and encouraged my writing when my days were black pages.

 

 

*Thank you to Margaret Gibson Simon for tagging me in this fun and challenging effort to enlighten others about our ways and whys of writing. She can be read at Reflections on the Teche

 

I am tagging:

Mashael (I am air)

Helen Losse

Mona AlvaradoFrazier

Participate if you like and link back here!  I will link to you, if you are inclined to play along.

Be well, friends.

Clare

New Poem/Prayer

Prayer

 

The figs are not yet ripe but I will leave them
for the blackbirds,
cacophonous angels of soot—

Wind forces its mouth
on mine and I cannot
breathe for a moment.

Thank you for this
breath and the next.

You call me to water; water
burgeoning in bodies.

Holy, holy
How new can I be?

The fullness
of my anger would fit
in a tarnished thimble, and this is a grace.

But my skin will never
forget the sin it committed.

Your mystery traces
intricacies in disquiet.
Your dawn raises
me from the dead.

I have swallowed stillness
to quiet all turmoil.

I pray,
unravel me,
to a single thread.

 

©2014 CLM

Path

Path

 

I used to say emphatically  that “I am on a path and I do not allow much to divert me from it,” but the diversions can be good if we circle back to ourselves.

I am on a path inward through the new meditation habit I am developing. Aligned with this path is the writing path: the path that I turn to, turn inwardly toward my deepest self, to process what is in my head and to create. This divine alignment has brought me to more deeply investigate and connect to something unknowable. I have turned my heart away from my own supposed desires, and toward the Divine Whatever which is in all things.

I have been, perhaps, delusional for some time. An example of this crazy thinking is that I would think that if I made choice A, that life would become something that I thought I desired, deserved or expected. I have no clue if such choices would produce the desired results, or would have been true in any of my life choices up to this point. In reality, we can never know if we “made the right decision” until time has passed and we see ourselves and outcomes retrospectively. Sometimes the Universe/Divine Whatever gives us a heads up and we understand that we have dodged a bullet, sometimes not.

Recently I talked with a friend about some heaviness I had been experiencing. I had a fatalistic view about my situation and was very gloomy. My friend had much more optimism than I did and he said, “There are no guarantees.”  This could be taken in the negative, but really he meant it and I took it in the positive sense that all my imaginings and some of my insights were not certain or final, and that perhaps what had been weighing on my heart would resolve in a beneficial way.  He gave me optimism and a bit of hope. Still, I dare not hope too much and pray only for peace and divine light to be cast on this perceived darkness.

I am an all-feeling human, thank goodness, and mostly make my decisions based on heart-matters rather than using my head. But I want to be a mature adult and think through things and not rush headlong into who-knows-what, even though my enthusiasm for life and following my heart has taken me to wild and wonderful places.  I think in the past year, I have learned many necessary lessons the hard way. Good lessons, and I have not backslid into unrestrained heart-following that often leaves me broken. But I do believe in trusting my own intuitive spirit in my “heart of hearts” and trusting that I am cared for by the Divine Whatever. The new adult in me  is being more cautious. She is thinking, weighing and planning. She is forgiving and asking for forgiveness. These are good and reasonable things. I am finding needed balance, but more importantly, I am turning away from anxious attempts to make things happen that I perceive as the way things must be. As my friend D. says, “It is what it is.” I am letting whatever “it” is be what it *is* and letting go of my tight grasp to control.

I am on a path. I am walking it in a forward direction. I will certainly “sight-see” along the way. I am less rigid, more accepting, more peaceful and thorough it all I am stretching my heart to more openness–even after hurt, even after disappointment in other people and myself.  Having the courage to open our hearts after hurt is perhaps one of our most vital lessons and elevates us as human beings.

I am more me, more grounded. And I love you, myself and this life very much.  Peace.

Clare