Louisiana

Dream of the White Horse

 

Sometimes I dream I am night-blind
or at that old job
where they tried
to do me in. Sometimes,

I am astride
a vivid white horse,
but only when planets
position to my favor.

Oh, to dream
of The White Horse
is salvation; a blessing
ineffable and sublime.

Once, I dreamed the car
I was driving
went over a bridge,
and I woke
completely afraid—
How do dreams linger
to create a haze out
of our entirety of days?

Peculiar and forceful,
sometimes made of metal,
my enemies arise in dream-light;
in queer movies, in supposed falsities.

I have got to get my shit together,
this dream says; or portrays me
as The Rider: legs tight
against shimmering hide.

The White Horse and I
share instinct and will.
The sense of this beast
encompasses all
that is ethereal, and yet
she is tremendously strong.

Oh, spirit, gift of perception,
visit me tonight.

 

©2014 Clare L. Martin

Significance

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Japanese lithophane cup, like ones in a tea set that I have inherited from my mother.

This poem came out of the creative writing work I am doing with women in recovery and/or transitioning from homelessness.  We are all survivors of something (myself included) and we are, if we choose to be, on a path of reclamation. More info on “Recovery Academy Two: Transformation of Lives through Poetry” can be found here: http://plastictheater.org/home/recovery-academy

This exercise was:

SIGNIFICANCE
Recall one object/thing. It could be a memento, a gift, something you mean to discard but have not, even the covering of dust on the furniture. Describe it in detail. Describe it with love or hate. What is its significance or insignificance to you? What will you do with/to it in the future?

 

SIGNIFICANCE
In 1972, my mother
rescued a wood
and glass cabinet
from the nuns
of Saint Genevieve’s.
Forty days after her death,
my brother slides
two glass shelves
off of their metal brackets,
and he and I carry
the cabinet to the back
of my car, open a door
and slide it onto a quilt.
I was not ready
to remove the cabinet
from its place
the same place
it had been since I was five.
I am crushed but we laugh
at something
together,
have a bite to eat,
and move
toward the other things.

That glass cabinet
belongs to me.
I could have left it
in the back of my car
for as long as I didn’t need
space for groceries,
quarts of oil, a spare tire.
My husband carries it. I am not ready.
I shout, “I am not ready!”

I am not ready
to dust and shine it,
to put in the glass shelves;
but objects will find a home there.

Japanese cups
Brother David
gave to my mother.

(A gift of war—if you lift them
empty to the light,
a silhouette of a geisha’s face
is revealed in the bottom).

Buttons, buttons, buttons.
Hand-embroidered handkerchiefs
and the white gloves
she wore at her wedding—

This dark morning it is only me awake; only my eyes open in this house.

 

 

Clare L. Martin

 

©2014 Clare L. Martin

A poem for my husband as we celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary

Our anniversary is August 4th, 2014 and we will celebrate 25 years of marriage. This poem was inspired by music performed at  Acadiana Wordlab on June 21st by our dear friend, James Perry (who also attended our wedding 25 years ago).  Thank you, James.

I read this to Dean and he loves it.  Sharing the love with you all.

Clare

Sweet Kiss

“When you make the sacrifice in marriage, you’re sacrificing not to each other but to unity in a relationship.”
~ Joseph Campbell

ANNIVERSARY

 for my husband, Dean

Honey tones from a violin
a godly woman on her knees
at the prie-dieu
all is holy
all is holy
we are immersed
in streams of holy notes

come to me clean
we will lie together
whole
this night
with open windows
in each other’s arms
open
relinquished of weariness
one kiss

light and more light
races westward
we have until sunset to say
the words never spoken
no more hurricane surges
to erode us
no more devastation
or years to erase
our future is blue sky

this slender time, silence:
a roseate spoonbill
sails over marshlands
fire on the horizon
we burn what is dead
we pick up the pieces
build and rebuild higher this time

our bond a salvation

my groom, my dearest
your laugh, your compassion
your sweet kiss that night
amber light against white walls
a hurricane in the gulf
our beloveds around us
true prayer
is in all our living
not just words
not just deeds
but the movement of our bodies
prayer in our arms
when we embrace
each other, or a stranger
as friend
when we hold open a door
and say good morning
we must be prayer
in all things

even in our desolate cries
we commune with God

you and I and our child
commune, miraculously healed—
these celebrations
moment by moment
no promise of time, just this
all because of a white dress
antique gold rings
the sum of days:
a twenty-five-year song

Clare L. Martin
7/1/14

 


DnC wedding

Purple Explained to the Blind

figs_insects

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Purple Explained to the Blind

 

fresh lavender in a steam bath
a berry on the tongue
an exhalation
when you are in someone’s arms
your sigh
because you know
they are holding the “you”
that is you, and all
you have ever been
or will be

the dry kiss of a queen
shepherds dreaming of sea-bottoms
bells at the hour of prayer
ice in summer
the speed at which it melts
perfume evaporating
a residue of oil
on the inside of your wrist
ambergris and sandalwood
a hunger, a chill
in the middle of the night

figs left on the tree
for the birds
the cavalcade of wasps
and flies affixed
to the succulent earth
below the branches
ravished, rotten fruit

rose petals
and blood in the palm
of your hand
rain-heavy wings
condensation on a glass
of vodka

the last muscle to grasp
and release
the dying heart

 

 

 

Generated by Clare L. Martin at the 6-28-14 Acadiana Wordlab www.acadianawordlab.org which was presented by Brian Schneider. Brian’s work and philosophy of lighting can be found at this resource:http://www.footcandlelighting.com

Barguest

barghest

Listen: the growl is deafening. A cloud splits in two. What mythical wonder woke you?

Sleep executed by firing squad. (Oh, the marksman without a bullet cries and the woman on his finger languishes).

He who has blood on his temple will never raise the stone in his fist.

We keep the sins we commit. What is a secret if no one cares to know it?

Hunger, hunger from the day you were terribly born. (This is why she hates you). There is no milk for children made of glass.

That which is left behind is all for you. The curse is that you cannot touch it. Remember what came to you through death will go through you like water. Still, the dead keep giving.

Wind shoves its tongue down your throat. A brass bird revels in rain. Someone runs into traffic with an inverted umbrella, dances, and shakes loose coins from her belly.

Hunger, again, for dog meat, good enough to eat, so, why not eat it? Filaments of lightning sear your morning-eye then burn out.

Phones ring with too much treble. Every time it is her–I want you back. The house shakes. Sleep shatters: a plane crash.

It was wrong of me to take a swig of vodka at the funeral. I did  not want it, or its meaning.

I pity the most unusual things. And there was no charm in this creature: dwindling fur, black, broken teeth, ember-eyes and skin thin as a frog’s. Nauseating.

Why did it come here? Was it for souls? I thought to feed it raw bacon wrapped to a wooden stick, but it took what it came for.

The sun rises and we hunger. The sun sets and we hunger. It is only one hunger that matters.

Sky Burial

1998.286.163-O

Sky burial platform in Dra Yerpa Monastery
Sir Charles Bell
September 11th 1921
Lhasa Area > Dra Yerpa

SKY BURIAL

Leave me
on open land
until bonesong
goes unheard
and all putrefaction
resolves.

Let me cultivate
the growth
of all that is visible
and invisible—
be the giver
of alms to the birds.

My secret name,
as is yours,
is Carrion.

Dead
or living come,
come to commune.
Let us go with eyes open
into ineffable light.

 

 

©2014 Clare L. Martin

 

Sewn

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My mother enjoyed sewing. I fondly remember garments that she sewed for me as a child, some quite amusing ones that got me teased by other kids, but which were made with pride and love.  Mostly my mom was a business woman, a working mom, but she did enjoy this art. I was always fascinated with the bobbins, the needles, her pin cushion and all of the fabrics, buttons, and ribbons she kept. I loved opening her sewing table to see the endless little bits of magic that could become something useful and beautiful.

Mom made a few outfits and skirts for me, which was always exciting because she would let me pick patterns and fabrics. I wanted to be as stylish as the carefully drawn women on the paper envelopes. It didn’t happen often but it was always special when she and I had a sewing project. For my part, I would stand still so that she could pin hems, or the seams along my sides to fit me, and that always made me nervous! I was so afraid of being pricked!

On one occasion she allowed me to use fabric from a floral print sack that she had preserved for decades when sacks of flour or feed came in printed fabrics. She kept that fabric pressed and folded in a cedar chest she received for her high school graduation. I know she treasured it; and it was wonderful bright cotton that I had always admired.

With that fabric I made a way-too-short mini skirt. She showed me a simple way to sew in the elastic waistband and how to measure the hem. I used her sewing machine for the first and only time, and I bent the needle and might have broken an essential part, too. That was my last attempt at sewing on her machine. I had the figure back then to wear the skirt, but the one time I wore it in public I had the most difficult time because I had no idea how to wear it modestly!

My mother could sew a button like nobody’s business. She made that button so tight in place!! She enjoyed sewing by hand mainly, and had also hand-stitched a few handkerchiefs, embroidering them with sweet, simple flowers. Maybe my daughter and my niece, Morgan, might like to have these treasures, which I believe are in Mom’s cedar chest. Mom always wanted me to take Home Economics in high school, but by the time I would have been able to take that elective, I had become pregnant, quit to get my G.E.D. and moved on to college.

What calls all of this to mind is that even as an adult, even as my mother imparted a few basic lessons in sewing to me, I was still going to her to mend clothing or even sew buttons for me. It was kind of a joke between us but she liked the practice and it gave her something creative to do. She enjoyed it and she knew I was off attending to all sorts of things and would not have stopped, or had time and patience, to do it myself.

Just before my mother passed away, I had two garments that needed sewing: a brand new skirt that was poorly made that had an open seam that I didn’t notice when I bought it and a blouse that had opened a bit on a seam because it fit a little too snug for me. Until my mother’s passing, I did not even have needle or thread in my house.

My mother’s sewing can is so remarkably familiar to us. When we brought things to her to hem up or stitch back together, or add elastic to because our waists were getting thicker, she would always say, while sitting in her recliner: “Go get my sewing can.” A day or two after she died, I asked my brother, Kevin, if I could have Mom’s sewing can. I told him my tale of woe that I did not have needle and thread in the house and our funny history with mom doing our mending. He said sure, I could have it. What a miracle that can is! I am almost afraid to open it, because of all that will come to me of her, but I will.

(On a side note, I think our family should also go through all of the buttons she preserved over the years. They are kept in my old bedroom which became her sewing room/toy room for all the grandchildren).

So, tonight in this quiet hour, I have the sewing can on my sofa and a small lamp turned on. In peace and solemnity I will mend my blouse and think of my mother and her deft and skilled hand-sewing that she was so proud of.  I will wear that cheaply-made blouse later today when my daughter and I meet friends for coffee (which really is a very important meeting) and into the evening when she and I go to a poetry event with friends (also very important) in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana.

In a way, I will not only be mending the Made in China blouse, but also mending a part of my being which is, too, opened at the seams.

Blessings,

Clare L. Martin

Wings

duck

 

We kept chickens and ducks for several years for the fresh eggs, and because it fed my nostalgia for my childhood, which was spent much of the time here at the house where I live now, which was my grandparents’ house.  We even dug out a small pond for them and kept it filled when the rain didn’t. It was fun for a time but read further and you will see the why of why we don’t keep them anymore.

I just spoke with my mother on the phone to ask about my grandfather clipping the wings of ducks and chickens, and she said he only clipped one wing so that the birds were unbalanced and not able to fly.  As a child, this made me very sad. But when Dean and I had chickens and ducks, Dean never clipped their wings and only a couple of Bantam roosters flew away, but they would come back to eat and at dusk to sleep.

We never killed a chicken for meat, but we did kill one duck. It was a really mean Muscovy that would attack me when I would open the gate to the backyard to feed the birds cracked corn.  I hated that duck. When we got the idea to kill a duck, I said, “Pick that one.”

The day it happened, my mother came over to supervise the killing and to show Dean how to remove the feathers with boiling water and paraffin wax. I watched from the kitchen window as Dean cut the throat of the duck until its head came off. It was slow.  Dean was having problems, perhaps the knife wasn’t sharp enough and the bird was fighting hard. I felt very sorry for Dean having to finish what he started. He is not a hunter and is kind to animals. I immediately felt sorry for my decision to make him do the deed because I wanted duck meat. I can still see him being beaten with the wings of the large white and black bird from my vantage point inside the house; the whole scene framed in the kitchen window.

My mother never put her hands on the duck but showed Dean how to dress and clean the duck. She showed him how to get the tiny pin feathers out, too. When Dean brought me the duck, the feet were still on it. He thought that was a joke. I was not amused.  He finished dressing it and brought it back to me washed and ready to season. I was somber but baked the duck. I made a cherry-chipotle glaze for it.

That day, which had to be twenty years ago, my father, mother, Dean and I sat to dinner at the dining room table. The duck had a good flavor but was very tough. My father commented that we had waited too long to kill the duck, that we should have chosen a younger duck or cooked it a different way that would have tenderized the meat. As I ate a few bites, I felt emotionally sick that I was eating this duck that I once felt glory about its impending killing. Prior to the whole killing and butchering, I felt I was exacting my revenge on his aggressive, noisy ways.  I did not finish my meal that day and might have sent the leftovers home with my mother.

While not turning me into a vegetarian, the whole experience left me haunted. I started thinking about the duck.  He was a good watch duck, better than a dog. If there was anything stirring in the backyard at night he would quack quite a racket. Also, when we threw out food scraps he would eat them, which was beneficial.  I thought of watermelons we had eaten almost to the rind. I would throw out the inedible parts and that duck would eat so that there was only green rind, thin as paper, curled in the yard.  Another thing ducks are good for is that they eat bugs.  That duck deserved better than we gave him, and I think about him still, sometimes laughing in that way that we laugh to keep from, well you know.

Soon after, we gave all of our ducks and chickens to a farmer, Mr. Guillot, who only spoke French but understood when we told him with hand signals and broken Cajun French that he could have them all for nothing.  I grew up spending most of my time with the chickens and ducks here at my grandparents’ house. I even had a pet chicken, Henny-Penny, (see photo below) that I taught “tricks” to but ended up in a gumbo that I am sure I ate, without my knowledge. When I asked where Henny-Penny was, I was told she flew away, and it broke my heart that she would leave me. She and I were good to each other.

Tonight I saw a painted image of wings being clipped and it brought back to me the strange and silent struggle framed in a kitchen window of that harmless, pert and feisty duck having its head removed with a too-dull knife, and a remembrance of my own brutality.

Henny Penny

“Hands like flushed doves”

Washing my hands this morning, I thought of  Noami Vincent, who was like a great aunt to me. She was my grandmother’s neighbor from the time that my grandparents (along with my mother and her siblings) moved from the country after a terrible flood that took everything they owned, to the house where they lived 50 years, where I live now.

Noami lived into her 90s, became my closest friend for many years until she passed in 2007, the same year as my father. She was a lively, seemingly impervious Cajun woman who had so many losses in her life.  She was one of the strongest women I have ever known. She lost seven children. She miscarried six times and the only child that she birthed, a girl, died in childbirth. This woman saved me so many times in our great friendship. She was family to us and is dearly missed.

I looked out of the bathroom window this morning and could see her house, empty still.  When she lived, her door was always open to me and to so many loved ones.  She was brave, funny, stubborn and deeply faithful. Here are a couple of facts about her:  she kept a bayonet in her closet to defend herself, if needed,  and she traveled alone to California from Louisiana without knowing how to drive during World War II. 

Noami’s story is complex. Both of her parents were deaf and mute and her mother went blind, too, after contracting diabetes. The poem below is collected in Eating the Heart First, and was written with inspiration from events in her life. She was very close to my mother, too, and I incorporated something of my mother’s narrative in it.

I will leave it at that.

I don’t want to use copyrighted images in this post, but please look at this painting, “Hands #1,” oil on canvas, 24″x24″, 2011, previously shown at Saatchi: Gallery Mess, London by Daniel Maidman that really struck me today.

 

MUTE

 

Hands like flushed doves

flutter to say: dry the dishes—

 

sweep the floor, but never be quiet.

When she went blind, too,

 

we spelled goodnight and I love you tenderly,

tracing each alphabet

 

on the scattered leaves of her palms.

I married and she touched

 

my hips, spreading her hands wide

to note I was getting fat. She patted

 

my growing belly

but never cradled my offspring.

 

When the infant died,

pantomime cries

 

fell like trees

in storms from her mouth.

 

 

“Mute” first appeared in Blue Fifth Reviewthe blue collection 1, anthology series, 2010 and is collected in Eating the Heart First (Press 53, 2012)

Copyright 2012, Clare L. Martin. All rights reserved.

Into the Ground

clare rose

 

Let me explain: Love roots. Love thrives.

My father was a widower when he met my mother. He lost his first wife to cancer. Her name was Viola, and she was the mother of his first three children. He was devoted to her and loved her to his last.  He grieved Viola’s memory profoundly and mourned her in every way he knew how while struggling to survive. I know this because during my lifetime I saw him crying many, many times when her memory took hold. Let there be peace in the knowledge of this for all who knew and loved him.

I am certain he thought he could never be in love again when Viola died, but he did fall in love with my mother. He and my mother had a 40-something-year marriage until his death in 2007.  I know it was a struggle for many to understand how quickly he married again, but he needed love and companionship. He and my mother were a solid, loving pair who made each other laugh and cry brilliantly to the last, and always his memory will be cherished.

My father was fifty when I was born. I was his last child. He gave my mother a dozen red roses, an armful, after bounding hospital stairs to see me for the first time. He joyfully thanked her in the way he tended their life together for giving him more children, my brother and me: new miracles out of their love.

A rosebush blooms wildly outside the window near my writing nook. It came to mind yesterday in a conversation with my mother about life and death and the small and great things in between. Call me sentimental but seeing those blooms is lifesaving. Writing this is lifesaving. The “Clare” roses, as my family called them, that grew from the cuttings of a bouquet my father gave my mother on the day of my birth in 1968 were tended by my grandmother and grandfather for years, before my husband and I came to live here.

That rosebush is pushing fifty, as am I.   I cannot say I have tended it well. I am not a gardener at all.  Most of the time, life is “a juggle and struggle” and we are up in the air about things, but if this rose took hold, took root, grounded its greening self so grandly, I like to think that I am somehow like it, or can be. The focus on it over the past two days has revived me and I feel good.

***

And as this beautiful rosebush and I will both cease, I think of the mystery of our transmutation from what and where we were/are/will be. 

This life: gentle and harsh.
This life: care of beloveds, if we are lucky.
This life: a chance in the moment to grow.
This life: a perpetual gift that points to love beyond measure from the Source of All.  

 

I wish you peace and inspiration always.

Clare L. Martin