One of my poems, “Litany” has been translated into Turkish and will appear in a small print journal in Turkey called Gard thanks to poet and translator, Şakir Özüdoğru. How cool is that? Just to know that this poem has impact and has moved another to share it with readers in his native tongue is thrilling. Much thanks to Şakir and best to him in all his artistic endeavors!
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.
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,
fell like trees
in storms from her mouth.
Copyright 2012, Clare L. Martin. All rights reserved.
The monsters of a thousand years tried to demolish me. I was left in want, desolate and afraid. Friendship comes into and out of life, but I relinquish myself to love. 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; fears this precious life also summons.
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.
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
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.
All rights reserved
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:
Participate if you like and link back here! I will link to you, if you are inclined to play along.
Be well, friends.
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.
From my niece Morgan Landry just now in reply to my plea for cheering up:
“You’re a creative genius, and in my personal opinion, the most genius of those in the arts have to pay a price. That price is awareness. You’re inclined to be hyper-aware, and when you wish you weren’t is when you are the most. Sometimes it’s bad, and all you can sense is its pain and misfortune — the world is so unfair. But other times, your psyche points towards the opposite pole of your internal spectrum. You can see so much beauty everywhere around you. You envelop yourself in the warm ancient afghan of our culture and bloodline and heritage. You feel your family’s love fill you up until you no longer know quite how to express it. You see a Monet in every leaf in a puddle on the old shitty sidewalks. And when you’re in the darkness, you just have to remember that all of these things are there still. You’ve done a stupendous job transforming your pain into a sturdy foundation for your soul and your work. You benefit from all that’s around you. Anyone who talks with you can’t help but feel happy and cared for; I can see it when I’m there. I love you forever!”
God bless you all and goodnight. XOXOX