“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.

River Dream

214

 

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.

 

4.21.14

All rights reserved

There are angels among us and some of them are human beings. I am lucky to have one as my niece.

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

Voices in Winter: Clare L. Martin and Diane Moore

Clare Diane

 

 

Wednesday, February 19th at 7 pm the winter installment of the Voices Seasonal Reading Series will feature a special evening of literary readings by poets Clare L. Martin and Diane Moore at Carpe Diem! Gelato – Espresso Bar located at 812 Jefferson Street in downtown Lafayette. The public is invited to enjoy gelato, espresso, tea, and pastries while experiencing a unique and enlightening literary event. The event also celebrates the two-year anniversary of this highly successful reading series in Lafayette.

Clare L. Martin’s debut collection of poetry, Eating the Heart First, was published fall 2012 by Press 53 as a Tom Lombardo Selection. Martin’s poetry has appeared in Avatar Review,Blue Fifth Review, Melusine, Poets and Artists and Louisiana Literature, among others. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Dzanc Books’ Best of the Web, for Best New Poets and Sundress Publication’s Best of the Net. Her poems have been included in the anthologies The Red Room: Writings from Press 1, Best of Farmhouse Magazine Vol. 1,Beyond Katrina, and the 2011 Press 53 Spotlight. She is a lifelong resident of Louisiana, a graduate of University of Louisiana at Lafayette, a member of the Festival of Words Cultural Arts Collective and a Teaching Artist through the Acadiana Center for the Arts. Martin founded and directs the Voices Seasonal Reading Series in Lafayette, LA, which features new and established Louisiana and regional writers and co-coordinates Acadiana Wordlab, a weekly literary drafting workshop. She serves as Poetry Editor of MadHat Annual and Editor of MadHat Lit, publishing ventures of MadHat, Inc.

Diane Moore is a writer of books, short stories, articles, and poetry. Her latest published book is a book of poetry,  In A Convent Garden. Her poetry and short stories have appeared in the Southwestern Review, Interdisciplinary Humanities, American Weave, Xavier Review, Trace, The Pinyon Review, and other literary journals. Her young adult book, Martin’s Quest, was awarded a grant that placed it on the supplementary reading list for Social Studies in Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes and was listed on the Louisiana Library Association’s reading list for accelerated students. Martin’s Quest was also a finalist in the Heekins Foundation Award Contest for an outstanding young adult book. Diane has been involved in poetry readings with both former Poet Laureate of Louisiana Darrell Bourque and Poet Laureate of Louisiana, Julie Kane; with New Orleans poet Brad Richard in the Festival of Words program in Grand Coteau, and with the present Louisiana Poet Laureate, Ava Haymon. This year, she published another young adult novel set in south Louisiana entitled Martin and the Last Tribe, the third in a series about the young traiteur hero of Martin’s Quest.

This event is free and open to the public.

Wonderful news!

I am exhilarated this morning by the wonderful news of this review written by Blood Lotus: An Online Literary Journal editor, Stacia Fleegal, of my debut poetry collection, Eating the Heart First.  I am so grateful for these words. I read the review over the phone to my mother and she just said, “Wow. That is mind-blowing.”

Even if I don’t sell a million copies, I have experienced, and continue to experience, great joy and pleasure from the response of so many readers. Stacia takes great care in her reading and her words are considered, inspired, and gracious.

Please read her review, and if you are so moved, buy a copy of the book, available from Press 53 for your summer reading.

Thank you!   

~Clare

Wordfest 2013

My reading as part of the MadHat reading at Wordfest 2013 on Saturday, May 4th, 2013–Asheville, NC

An interview conducted by Jeff Davis for WordPlay on Asheville FM. The interview begins at about the 7 minute mark.

I am deeply grateful for this opportunity to share my words. Thanks to the festival organizers and backers, MadHat, Inc., and to WordPlay host Jeff Davis for everything. Special thanks to Unlikely Stories publisher, Jonathan Penton, for thinking of me and for an amazing experience.

4/25/13 “Eating the Heart First Day” on Amazon!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThursday, April 25th, we celebrate “Eating the Heart First Day” on Amazon! Go to Amazon.com, and put “Eating the Heart First” in the search bar or click here.  Buy a copy for yourself or a friend, or two for both of you. We want to make a great showing; but more importantly, we want to share this book that we sincerely believe in. Thank you!!

These keen, visceral and haunting poems were written for human beings. Their creator, Clare L. Martin, has expressed deeply-felt and deeply-known human experiences through them. We want you to read Eating the Heart First because it was written for you. The sample poem, “Naked,” at the bottom of this post is the opening poem of the collection.

Just the title of this collection, Eating the Heart First, gives the reader a hint of what can be found within its pages: darkly powerful poems about love, dreams, and the swamps of Martin’s native Louisiana. These poems will undoubtedly leave a lasting mark on the reader.

Eating the Heart First was published October 2012 by Press 53. Poems from this collection have appeared in Avatar Review, Blue Fifth Review, Literary Mama, Louisiana Literature, and more. Martin’s work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Dzanc Books’ Best of the Web, Best New Poets, and Sundress Publication’s Best of the Net.

“Clare L. Martin is a fine young poet whose work is dark and lovely and full of a deep organic pulse,” says Luis Alberto Urrea, author of Queen of America. “Like the landscape of her beloved Louisiana, her work is alive with mystery. You could swim in this hot water, but there are things down inside its darkness that might pull you away forever. It is an exquisite drowning.”

More praise comes from Darrell Bourque, former Poet Laureate of Louisiana and author of In Ordinary Light, New and Selected Poems and Megan’s Guitar And Other Poems from Acadie, who says, “Clare L. Martin pulls off an impressive balancing act in her debut book of poems, Eating the Heart First. In this collection, divided into three sections, she manages trust of her intuitive powers while she tats her findings onto poems built with technical expertise. She is a believer of dreams, and the whole of the work can be read as an oneiric treatise guided by the powers she believes in: the power of memory, the power of water, the power of moons, the powers of longing, and the power of love.”

Clare is a lifelong resident of Louisiana, a graduate of University of Louisiana at Lafayette, a member of the Festival of Words Cultural Arts Collective and a Teaching Artist through the Acadiana Center for the Arts. Martin founded and directs the Voices Seasonal Reading Series in Lafayette, LA, which features new and established Louisiana and regional writers.

Eating the Heart First
Poetry by Clare L. Martin
Publication date: October 1, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-935708-66-7
Size: 8.5 x 5.5 inches, 90 pages
Price: US $12.95

NAKED

I am the woman
naked before the mirror.
I am the haunted woman
wincing at self-recognition.

I know this muscle that beats
hard in my chest
is calloused,
and grows stranger
as I know it.

I slave in the garden,
lopping mad roses,
shredding their iron tongues—
At midnight I soak
my bridal veil with gasoline
and set it afire. I dance around,
around and curse you ceremoniously.

I do not reach for you in sleep.
I keep my dream secret.
What remains is sexless, loveless.
I cannot give you what I do not have.

In a morning tryst,
my lover tells me fables of skin
and I crave you—

Clare L. Martin, Eating the Heart First (Press 53, 2012)

Wings

Image

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.