“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.

Breathe

She pours the lavender bath salts into the tub under hot running water, lights one dark candle and steps out of her dress and panties. The tea is hot but not too hot: cinnamon spice, fragrant orange. The bathwater is piping hot; she steps in with both feet but then does a little dance, one foot up and one foot down. She lowers herself into the bath. Her thighs redden. A joint would be great right now but it has been years since she smoked pot, let alone had any in her possession. Maybe legal pot will come here. She has a medical necessity. Ah, yes. Perfect. The hot water, the tea, the soothing scents, the candlelight—she turns down the volume of her thoughts and arouses a new mind.

©2014 CLM

This piece was generated at the February 8th, 2014 Acadiana Wordlab led by George Marks. More info on Acadiana Wordlab can be found here: www.acadianawordlab.org 

NO MYSTERY HERE

The bullet hits while she is taking the first sip of hazelnut flavored coffee, from behind. Now it is a disaster in the pristine kitchen. He moves her body quickly to the backyard. The still-dark morning and tall wooden fence ensure he has time, and the place is already dug. He dumps her, shovels the dirt on top and opens the bags of ready-concrete.  He fights for a bit with the water hose that is kinked up but soon the flow is strong and he gets the job done. He lays a blue tarp on the setting Quick-Crete, and walks back, naked, into the house. The rags are large enough to swipe up the bits of bone and brain.  They will go with the mop into the fire pit. The smell of bleach and blood makes him dizzy but he keeps working quickly, a pace as though a boss-man is overseeing the task. The letter she will write (that he wrote) is already in the envelope and he will drive to Minneapolis to mail it. He goes over every inch of the kitchen with bleach and sponges and rags. When it is done, he thinks that an electric fan would help to clear the bleach smell and dry the room. He wipes his forehead with the back of his hand and looks up. Splatter on the ceiling. He steps up, barefoot, on the kitchen table and something glistens in his sight. Seems she had just polished it, and when he realizes it, he slips backwards. His neck strikes the hardwood edge, snapping. His corpulent body falls limp to the floor.

©2014 CLM

This piece was generated at the February 8th, 2014 Acadiana Wordlab led by George Marks. More info on Acadiana Wordlab can be found here: www.acadianawordlab.org 

First

The barrage of the diesel engine rattles the truck cab. He is fumbling with the buttons of his jeans. Levis 501s. The only kind of jeans he wears since he got the job at the Parking Lot. He buys them when they are on sale, but that is hardly ever. Classic—that’s his style. His mom bought him Tough Skins™ from Sears. He hated them. He roughed up those jeans riding bikes in the woods with the narrowest path that the boys cleared with a rusty machete, and fishing at the No Trespassing Lake that the boys had to clear a barbed-wire fence to get to. He wore those jeans so tough his mom had to put patches on patches, but it was all she could afford. Kids called him “Poor Patchy” at school and laughed too at the every-day-of –week bologna sandwiches and the Mason jar of milk his mom packed. He thumbs the last button of the Levis through the buttonhole and slips the jeans down his hips. She is already crying. He wonders for a moment and asks if it is okay. She says yes, puts her panties on the rear view mirror, and tries to smile, her mouth quivering. What is it? He asks, again. Is it me? No, she says, just the human condition.

©2014 CLM

This piece was generated at the February 8th, 2014 Acadiana Wordlab led by George Marks. More info on Acadiana Wordlab can be found here: www.acadianawordlab.org 

Flight

blackbird

I stand on the edge of a cliff. I believe with all of my being I can fly, (because it takes belief and not wings).  I stand on my tiptoes and stretch. I raise my arms to the sky, draw in breath and ready to soar: one two three— I am not. I am not rising in the air.  I try a different approach. I bend to the ground. Focus the muscles of my back and thighs, tighten my toes.  I tighten my whole body to my body: a coil ready to spring.  Up, and down again. The sky opens. Three crows form a triangle in a deep blue patch. Third attempt: I climb onto a rock. The rock is not flat and I teeter to balance. I desire to fly so desperately; to free myself from the burden of ground. The sorrow of my flightlessness turns to storm. Dark clouds gather in my torso. My arms crackle with lightning. The sky is smoldering black.   Rock upon rock of disbelief weights me. I will never fly. I will never be apart from dead ground. Flags of smoke and flame; the brush and fallen trees ablaze— Frantic fire in my path = no escape. A crow, impossibly large, swoons above me then drops.  On its magnificent black back, it takes me up, up and away.

Acadiana Wordlab product 2-1-14
© 2014 CLM

DANCE

The room is the brightest blue. She unzips her dress, slips it off her shoulders, steps out and carefully places it on the bed.  She positions the arms of the dress one up/one down. She imagines the empty dress spirited with life. (She imagines the room is not blue, but black with bare red bulbs in the ceiling fixture).  The room fills with music: woeful drumming and softly struck piano keys—only the sharp notes. She picks up the dress and sways with it. She puts her hands into the sleeves and wishes for a body to fill the velvet bodice and flowing skirt.  The light is dim but bright enough to see a thin layer of dust on the cluttered vanity, the scars in the sun-rotted curtains. Her miserable cat, Mr. Bellows, claws the bedpost. The telephone rings. She shakes off her dance and rushes to it. Hello?  It is not who she had hoped it would be. There is weeping on the other end then a resonant dial tone.

©2014 CLM

Productivity, Wordlab, and a work-in-progress

Before Acadiana Wordlab was founded in 2012, I was pretty productive but I was at a weird point on my writing path.  The book had just come out and I was a bit aimless. So much time was devoted to preparing the manuscript, seeing Eating the Heart First into publication and promoting it, I was off when it came to daily writing.  At first I thought I didn’t need or want to be in a “writing group” and was actually a bit scared to write raw in a group. I was wrong. Acadiana Wordlab has helped me to go places in my writing I never would have ventured, and I am a much “looser” writer when it comes to first getting words onto paper. Also, the multiple creative approaches afforded by the variety of artist-presenters have opened my mind. This has probably created new neural pathways/tapped into other areas of my brain which has only strengthened my writing skills.  People in attendance vary week to week but our core group has become pretty tight. It’s is a safe place to create.  We are writing new. I am writing new and that is the most valuable thing to me.

Each week after a session of Acadiana Wordlab, I take the raw writing and work the words. I usually get at least one new poem or a somewhat cohesive draft out of the writing done in the literary drafting workshop. This past week, I led the workshop and the themes we explored were mortality and darkness. It shouldn’t have surprised me that I was terribly depressed Sunday. The darkness broke for me, thankfully. Today I worked on what I began in Saturday’s Wordlab. The following poem/draft is actually a compilation of the three distinct bits of writing. It is a work-in-progress. What is interesting to me is that I am pushing  through to stylistic breakthroughs.  I am going in new directions and that thrills.

The lessons I presented on Saturday can be seen at the link below. The item I chose from the small batch of “mementos” was a crucifix.

1-25-14 Acadiana Wordlab (click for the prompts/exercises)

The Hanging Woman

breathes desert into her throat
Golgotha-naked

rapacious sun
spear opens rib

the most egregious of transgressions
lust inside/out

lungs vigilant flag
serpentine intestine

nailed-out muscles
Heaven’s jaw shuts

borne upon the cross
we cannot willfully die

the women tear at their smocks
sun goes

to terminal moonrise
burnt to bone

new meanings of the body impaled;

all sensation thrust
from pleasured skin

blade to stone
stone to bone

bone to blood night
incarnated, excarnated.

©2014 CLM

Let me tell you a story

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.

Political Animal

I was challenged to consider whether my poetry is political because of the theme of “change” in the 100 Thousand Poets for Change movement, which claims political and social change as its issue and mission.  I have very definite ideas of my own politics, but I do not often write directly about them.

I dug through old folders last night and found a few poems that seemed to speak to this notion.  I read a collaborative experimental poem, written by myself and Dana Guthrie Martin, titled “this dream runs ahead of me.” I also read “What Came After,” (Sunrise from Blue Thunder, 2011) a poem that was written in response to the Japanese earthquake and tsunami; the ensuing meltdown and continuing disaster at the Fukishima nuclear power plant. Lastly, I read “Poem to the Madonna,” (Unlikely Stories, 2012) which is a lament and critical view of an icon of religion and perhaps my most overt political statement.

As an artist, I am asserting my self and my art into the world for the purpose of engaging and affecting other humans.  Art drives and shapes my living. With each stroke of the pen or tap on the keyboard I claim my right to create freely with artistic purpose. Many have died, or have been shamed and shunned, for far less.  

I think of myself as a feminist. This is a fairly new awareness. I have always considered myself a strong female, capable and determined, but I am now inclined to claim the label because we are under threat.

Much of the angst that comes through in my poetic voice is resonance of the truth that women continue to be oppressed. When I write erotica, for example, I want to express myself as a sexual being, an entity that claims complex, nuanced sexual impulses and wants.  I do not take this for granted. I express sexuality via a poetic statement to engage and enlighten not only the reader but myself.  I give myself permission to write what I need to write—if I waited for the world to allow me to do it I would be paralyzed. I break through those misgivings and sense of “decorum” to find the gritty or glorious truth. The intent is art, not puerile entertainment.  

If the idea is to trigger social change, then we must look at the individual, we must look to ourselves. At the very heart of humanity’s dilemma is that we are the instigators of our own ills as well as the glories—with the exceptions of our own coming into the world and the fact that we will die.  The change we seek will happen when humanity finds its own humanity—but will hate ever cease? That is the question and our enduring jeopardy.

Nothing I am saying here is new, and perhaps not said in a new way. What is and will always be groundbreaking is each solitary individual’s first act, claiming their right to be a whole, creative being: a voice in seven billion singing out.