I have a ring on every finger. The wind is blowing from the north. I got this blanket at the truck stop. I wrap it around me like a poncho. I drive through Colorado with the windows rolled down. My knuckles are ice. Cold pain keeps me awake. At every exit and entrance to the highway, night empties and refills with light. The U-Haul in front weaves two lanes into one. My eye’s on white lines and snowy mountains shining in the blue descent of night. You are always in memory. One thunder clap and then another. I look to the clouds and the moon for a clue. What key will unlock you? You in memory, in that black leather motorcycle jacket—you roughed it up good. What you did in it was death-defying, legendary. But you were a young man then. Moments were angel-grace upon you. You grew too thin for it when—it came on like a disease. It moved up your spine, hooked your brain. The pain in your mind was bad as cancer in the bone, in the marrow. Oh it was bad pain and it ate you. I’m driving through Colorado and you’re dead five years. I’m driving like a son of a bitch, freezing my tits off, crying. Fuck you. You disappeared yourself. There were pills that could have fixed you. They sure fixed me. I had worse shit going down than you ever did and I am good. The last months you looked dead before you died. Fall-down-drunk, broke-boned, hacked-teeth—we could see your skeleton through your shirt. Your pants hung on somehow. You had the haggard look that kept people away. Didn’t you get tired of that–that running gag? Didn’t you get tired of that look? The look we, the living, gave you? We wished for you, but it is a lame effort to wish. All our wishing didn’t pull you up and out. I’d like to remember your boy-smile, your waterfall eyes, before being drunk took you. Did you ever dare to believe an infinitesimal spark of your self could ignite new fire? Maybe you hoped a little and lost that littlest bit, and that is what killed you.
I found out overnight that one of my bridesmaids, who remained a close friend for years, but who was also very troubled died in August of last year. I loved her dearly although we had troubles that we could not surmount in our time. This is a difficult thing to grasp–that although we made a mutual decision to not be in contact, she is truly gone from this world. I don’t know how she died. We had not been in contact since my daughter was little. So many distressing thoughts come to mind but ultimately the fact is that I loved her fiercely, and I believe she loved me too.
In respect of her memory I wish her peace and comfort to her loved ones.
I was waiting for a friend in a sweet café. I fidgeted with my phone, fluffed my hair and closed my eyes to the sun that flitted in mirrored windows of passing cars. Then she arrived and we ordered tea. We talked for an hour before what was on my heart arose. We sat with a white rose between us and I cried. I cried for the first time in years. My heart was so obvious and tender. My heart was spilling out of me. This sounds cliché but it is true. My old woman heart, bare and tender flourished in the café, undone by sunlight, compassionate friendship and a lovely tea.
The monsters of a thousand years tried to demolish me. I was left in want. I was desolate and afraid. A wonder of friendship came into my life, and I have relinquished myself to it.
I will never let love go, even if I am discarded. I will keep holding fast. I will keep seeking the beautiful and exquisite selves of caring humans. There is nothing that would turn me away.
Only love banishes fear; the fears this precious life has summoned.
I want my ashes spread at Cypremort Point, Louisiana. To me it is a place that I have loved visiting all of my life. I continue to make memories there with my family.
As a child, my imagination was continually sparked by my mother’s nature-games, spotting hawks, Kingfishers, cranes, and other birds who inhabit the area and also her fun stories about Bear Country, a sloping area near the Weeks Island turnoff. When we drove through Bear Country to get to the point, my mother’s voice would always drop a bit in tone and volume and she would tell us to be on the lookout for bears. As an adult, I finally saw a Louisiana Black Bear there and my mother’s evocative tales all became so wonderfully real again.
We had the use of a camp on the point for many years when I was very little until I was maybe ten years old. We would stay weekends out there with family. We would fish, crab, play in the water at the beach and then pack up at the end of that seemingly endless time and go home. I always liked Cypremort Point better than home. I do not remember much of the home on Sixth Street I began life in, but I vividly remember Cypremort Point.
Once I was allowed to steer the boat out in Vermilion Bay. I turned the wheel hard left and we circled dangerously. Once my father “caught” an alligator on his fishing line at Marsh Island and I shrieked in fear that the alligator was going to “get me” as he reeled it closer to the boat. There was an illusive, enormous sheep’s head fish that all of us tried to catch. It lurked under the wharf and we would see it swim slowly in and out of sunlight. There was a day when the sun was full and high that I saw a thunderous strongman lift a sea turtle over his head on a shrimp boat. I was stunned by the exotic creature and the strange man who seemed to appear from a Sinbad the Sailor movie.
This brings to mind the dead winged monkey that I saw in a pile of shucked crab shells. It was stinking and scary. I saw the wings. My brother didn’t. Its dank and wet hide was encircled by flies. I looked closely for evidence of breath but there was none. It was my first up close experience with death.
I held onto that memory for years, the wonder of it and the improbability. I protected my illusions. I saw a winged monkey like in the Sinbad movies, like in The Wizard of Oz. These creatures were real even though the one I saw was dead, rotting, and half-buried under red-boiled blue point crab shells.
It was more real than anything.
I have told this story to only the closest of friends, or after a long drunk. It didn’t do much to jeopardize my reputation because my reputation has always been at risk. Saturday at Acadiana Wordlab, I wrote about the dead winged monkey and we all laughed. The truth perhaps spilled out that I had imagined it, that likely the monkey was a pet on a shrimp boat, not Sinbad’s ship, and the pet monkey had died and was discarded.
But I really want to believe, to hold fast to the magic of its existence; the idea that we do not know all that we think we do. I want to believe in the strange and unfamiliar, the existence of secret things of this world. How would you know that this creature does not exist? Our knowledge is fallible, limited. You may say I am a silly woman, and I am. I am in my heart still that silly, shocked and awed girl; a child of wonder. And I reside in that one, and perhaps many other, glorious illusions.
See into the reflection.
[Photo courtesy of Tracy Board]
So many people have done extraordinary things for me all of my life that the only way I could ever pay them back is by giving back to others, in ways within my power and ability. It is my joyful duty. That is why we started the Voices Seasonal Reading Series.
The first ever featured writer for Voices was Patrice Melnick, a dynamic, loving and gifted woman who shares her many talents with the communities within Acadiana and beyond. As a personal friend and colleague she has taught me well how to grow joy within myself and share it with others. She has taught me to be brave in so many ways.
Patrice was my inspiration for planning the first Voices in Winter event at Carpe Diem Gelato – Espresso Bar in Lafayette, LA at the beginning of 2012. It was a great success and we have had six very successful events since. We are already booked through 2013 and I am putting out feelers for 2014.
I met Matthew Hofferek at a Starbucks drive through window. His personable manner, humor and keen wit engaged me and we hit it off immediately. On our second meeting at the drive through, he told me he was a writer. I was so happy he was upfront about it. I said I was too, and we exchanged information. When he shared a few short stories that he had written, I was immediately struck by the power of his voice, his unflinching honesty and the gracefulness of his language. We have become great friends, lifetime friends, I hope, with all my heart.
I offered to him to read at Voices and he did so last night. It was his first reading and he was nervous. My friend Jonathan and I took him to Pamplona and we each had a good, strong drink of our choosing and toasted THE WORD. By happenstance, we met two other writers who are moonlighting as bartenders. It was great synchronicity, a force that flowed through the entire evening.
Joining Matthew at the Voices in Winter event was internationally-acclaimed poet and collage artist, Camille Martin. We were very lucky and honored to have Camille read for the series and she was enlightening, brilliant and moved the audience with her stunning work. Camille is from Lafayette and has lived in Louisiana for many years but finds her home in Toronto now. She was in town visiting family. We were lucky to be found by her and hope for deepening connections with her in the future.
I was so proud of Matthew. My dear friend affected us, his audience, with a deeply moving story, “All Wars End Alone” that was written with great “honesty and a little invention.” This young man served our country and is home. His somber and difficult tale was so well-written, so well-crafted and affecting that it brought tears to my eyes to hear him read it, even though I had read it before last night.
Whatever burdens we carry, there are miracles that can lift them from our hearts. I was so honored to have Camille and Matthew read and both of them dedicated their readings to loved ones. The emotion was palpable and my prayer is that by sharing their words they were lifted up, as we all were.
Thank you, Matthew and Camille for trusting us.
Thank you to Carpe Diem, Silvia, Erik and their staff, and to all our guests. To Matthew and Camille, I sincerely say thank you for your bravery, dedication to your respective arts and for the honor to present you to the community of Acadiana.
My debut collection of poetry, Eating the Heart First, published by Press 53 as a Tom Lombardo selection, is now available.
For more information, or to purchase a signed copy, contact me via the email address below:
Clare L. Martin: firstname.lastname@example.org
A wolf went blind, died and was fed on by scavengers. The gristle that remained decayed and maggots swirled. On a cold morning, after days of rain, these wolf bones crack under the footfall of a man. The man carries a shotgun and a flask as he walks in the wood. He is thin and holds one fractured belief. I will not tell you what it is. He has a sweet side, or so they say, but that is not a necessary detail in the story. This man woke this morning with an erection that his wife would not satisfy. The man is looking for something to kill and a cure for his erection. The day heats up. Crows caw his coming into the sky. The man takes a swig from the flask and rubs his wet nose with a camouflage glove. The animals smell him and stay hidden. The man picks up a sheer bone from the carcass of the wolf and sniffs it. He is all of fifty-eight and is no longer employable. The man puts the bone in the chest-pocket of his denim overalls. The man remembers something and forgets it almost as quickly. Then, he remembers his mother’s saying that “It must not be important.” But it was. Why are we concerned with this man? He is not the story. The story is of starving wolves, bones, rotting viscera, the callous vultures that circle a small clearing in a wood after days and days of rain. This story is of the matter we are made of, return to; our shared transformation.
I am cold in the cathedral. The cold reminds my bones of all the places they have been broken: the metatarsals, the clavicle and the scapulae. I sit on the worn wooden pew. The saints glower. There is a fountain of colored light on the marble. Beneath the floor, near the gold-shimmer altar, dead bishops are buried. A stone will keep a secret. A gray woman prays on her knees. Her head is a pendulum. She confesses daily, an hour each time, telling sins that she could not possibly commit. What was the name of the old priest who gave Last Rites? He took a pill bottle from the nightstand and slipped it with his rosary into a red felt bag. He left embellishments of forgiveness on the thin skin of my father’s brow. A priest has the power to forgive as God forgives, with his very own breath. The late day alights on Mary’s flesh and illuminates her blue wimple.
The day my father died, the sitter answered the phone flatly: “He’s dead.” Again, again I imagine his dissipating pulse, his cheek bluing. Here in the cathedral, I utter “father, father” without answer.