Life

I got the music in me.

Phoenix

When my son died ten years ago, I dedicated myself to The Writing Life. When my dad died seven years ago, I began the manuscript that became Eating the Heart First. I am directed now to express music, because it has been my longest love; and one from which I was parted, on the deep level I consciously and unconsciously sought.

My path of healing in this grief journey, after my mother’s passing, is to follow the music.

My mother and father sang to my brother and me all of our lives. Singing was a happy time with us as a family. I believe I was singing before I knew words.

My mother worked for many years at Lafayette Drug Company which was also a record store. She had quite the collection. I spent all of my allowance on records. I played them constantly. I would set the phonograph to continually play one side of a record while I slept, by swinging that arm out, or would stack as many records as could be held on the turntable, depending on the stereo I had at the time. I went through quite a few.

Once, my dad found a small electric organ in the trash and brought it home. It still worked. I tried to teach myself songs from a songbook my mother had kept from her childhood. Any time I was near a piano, I asked to play it, even though I had no knowledge of it other than to strike the keys and discover a melody that was summoned from my heart into my mouth. I would la la la or make up lyrics and sing out, likely annoying everyone in the house. My nanny, our Aunt Dee Dee, gave me a harmonica one year for Christmas. She put it in a toothpaste box inside a large cardboard box. I was ecstatic when I figured out it wasn’t toothpaste! I spent many hours of my childhood here at my grandparents’ home swinging and singing my own made-up songs under the oak tree. These are some of my most cherished memories of early life.

I was given 3 guitars as presents growing up. One got broken, one I still have, and another I traded for an acoustic I still own, too. I played devotedly for about four years, from age seventeen to twenty one and then let it go—

Music is an integral part of my daily life, whether it is for enjoyment, inspiration, or if it helps to facilitate mediation and sleep. In my book of poetry, there are poems written after dreams of playing instruments (in the dreams only), and the music that was produced in those dreams was unlike anything I have ever heard. Astonishingly beautiful and complex music. The palpable longing in the poems “Her Body Desires the Instrument” and “What I Long for In Dreams,” collected in Eating the Heart First, is the ache of necessity to be able to create the music in me. I can barely do this at this point, after not playing for nearly 25 years. I have forgiven myself and let go of the guilt and heartache produced from staring at my guitars for decades, as though playing them would never be a part of my life again.

I made a choice just a month or so ago to buy a new guitar and it was one of the best decisions of my life. If I had not bought it, I would either be in a mental hospital or dead, and that is not an exaggeration. It has been a salve to my soul and I am caring for it as an extension of myself, a necessity to my living being.

I identify as a creative. No other labels will suffice. A plus of being a poet, calling myself that for ten years, is that I have an edge with lyrics and an ease of process in creating them. Now to explore the instrument of my choosing, which for now is the guitar. Who knows where it will lead, but all I care about is this healthy, healing outlet, creative satisfaction and joyful pleasure. My family seems to be enjoying it and I have their support and respect.

My own excitement is almost excruciating. I am having a blast!  When I see friends or meet new people, I ask them to give me the inside of their wrist, so I can gently rub my callused fingertips on that spot. Call me crazy, but watch out—I might be a one-hit wonder. I might get paid royalties for a song I write. I actually was in communications tonight with a person who has a connection to Nashville recording businesses. Not ready for that but everything worthy starts with a holy dream and that is how I see this new direction, this new exploration. This guitar costs me nothing but the intial price (not very much) and the time, care and attention I give to playing.  I have found that playing cycles healing energy and recycles negative energy into a positive.

Maybe I will only share my music with with my closest family and friends, but I am doing it and loving it at a time when I could have completely fallen apart.  It is also leaving a positive impression on our daughter–the lesson that you can dream and you can commit to learn something new every day of your life.

And thank God for that.

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

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

THE DEVIL’S IN THE DETAILS

THE DEVIL’S IN THE DETAILS*

That summer I was tobacco and burnt sage; a carnival ride that lurched midair—

The barefoot, bra-less girl who watched thistle seeds carried on the wind, listened to King Crimson on a mix-tape and sneaked her grandmother’s mulberry wine—

I tore you open: a lusted-for letter that announced my emancipation. I nearly choked on love—fervently sucking the pit for every last sweet string of flesh.

Now we watch CNN with thunder in our chests. It is how we feel all of the time—a marching band parade of all drums and tubas.

We have grown so old sugar cane fields are malls, Taco Bells, and neighborhoods obscuring magenta sunsets. Where are our horizons?

There is a collapsed mine in China on the TV. The newscaster spends 15 seconds on it.

And somehow a memory rises of a stranger: his taut arms cradle my hips; his deft fingers twirl an ice cube on my nipple—before you.

I begin to tell you about it but remember that twenty seven years ago
you asked me not to.

 CLM ©2014

*Based on the prompts: a wax seal, an apricot pit, distant thunder, a collapsed mine, strangers fornicating, a blissful magenta sunset, devils in the details, tobacco, burnt sage, spit, carnival rides, a thistle, wind, mulberry wine