The Best-Laid Plans

My friend, Sandra, is the new Executive Director of Teche Center for the Arts in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana.

I wish her the very best!

The Road to Indigo

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Near the start of the year I made a commitment to make my literary projects a priority. I said so publicly, and I meant it. And then a professional opportunity too good to pass up emerged. Tomorrow will be my first day on the job as executive director of the Teche Center for the Arts. I will bring to bear my experience as a senior administrator, writer, editor, marketing communicator, poet, gallery co-founder, and arts champion within the dynamic community in the heart of Cajun and Creole culture that I call home. This community and I have embraced each other since I first started coming here in 2011 to research my novel, The Road to Indigo, now in revision. Luckily, my commitment to seeing my novel through and getting it into the world is not at odds with my new work. The two complement one another. Perhaps my book…

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For the Love of Words

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These last two weekends were word-centric love fests. First was the Louisiana Book Festival in Baton Rouge, an annual celebration of writers, readers, and the books they love. And just yesterday the Festival of Words Cultural Arts Collective, Inc. celebrated the 10th Annual Festival of Words in Grand Coteau, LA.  I participated in both events.

It was the first time I was a presenter at the Louisiana Book Festival. I was there representing my book, Seek the Holy Dark, (Yellow Flag press, 2017). I was also invited by our new Poet Laureate, Jack Bedell, to be on a panel of Louisiana women poets. This was such an honor. The whole weekend was fabulous with my soul sister Bessie Senette. Accompanying me to the author event and sharing her generous friendship throughout the trip was the cherry on top.

The best part was seeing so many writer friends, who live in other cities, gathered at this celebration. It makes such a difference to the quality of our friendships to be in the same room together, share hugs, and laugh. I feel like our state writers are in many ways growing closer and that is a wonderful thing. A big part of that is opportunities such as Louisiana Book Festival which has grown in stature and attendance. It makes it possible for writers to connect with each other and with their readers. Don’t worry, friends. I won’t spill our secrets from the excursion on this page!

Next up was the Festival of Words. This year’s featured authors were extraordinary and kind. Darrell Bourque, Allison Joseph, and Patricia Smith each offered illumination and inspiration. From the reactions I witnessed, each of these fine poets seemed to have a fantastic time.

In its ten years as a festival, Festival of Words in picturesque Grand Coteau has grown greater than imagined. Thursday began with a warm reception for the featured poets with a potluck and performances by three of the festival’s Teaching Artists. It was a showcase to present the working artists who had gone into the schools to present creative workshops to the middle, elementary and high school students of St. Landry Parish.

Friday was the featured poets’ night to shine and it was fantastic. The venue was packed full. The audience was thrilled and gave standing ovations. Saturday, there were more activities, including community workshops led by the featured authors and spoken word and literary writers from the community.

It’s the wee hours of Sunday. The clocks are about to reset to Day Light Savings time, but I wanted to share just a flash about how wonderful these past two weeks have been. If you can make it in 2018 to either of these festivals, I don’t think you will be disappointed. Books, authors, learning, and entertainment—what’s not to love?

 

Clare

Recollection of My Father, Atchafalaya Basin, 1984

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(photo by Clare L. Martin)

Sunrise, Atchafalaya Basin—

 

Daddy’s ankles in water as the flat-bottomed aluminum boat slides off the trailer. I put my life jacket on. Daddy says, Hold onto the rope and walk to the wharf. I board the boat carefully, so I don’t fall in the water. Daddy never wears a lifejacket. He throws the outboard into reverse then shoots out to the channel that is peppered with cypress stumps, some hidden below the waterline. Daddy knows the clear path to where the fish are hiding. Any good spot under the willow trees.

Flowing costumes of green braids—the willow-dance of the breeze. Daddy opens a Schlitz beer can and gives me a red soda pop. He baits my hook because I don’t like touching the catalpa worms with their black goo. We cast close to the ribbons of branches, being careful not to set the hooks in the trees. We’re not fishing for squirrels, Daddy says.

Sun ascends to the shoulders of the willows. We eat bologna sandwiches and chips and sip our drinks. I am getting sunburned. We are waiting for the corks to bob, pop below, and disappear under the water for good.

Daddy talks to the fish. Take it, Big Red. That worm is good. A tug, a quick jag to the right to set the hook in the fish’s mouth, then I’m pulling hard. Reel, reel, reel. The sun perch breaks the surface, shimmering iridescent reds. He is fat. He twists mid-air drowning in oxygen and blood. Daddy pulls the hook from the throat of the fish that swallowed the bait and hook.  Then, as I expect, Daddy squeezes the middle of the fish and it expels urine directed at me. I squeal. Daddy knows I hate and love this. Our ritual joke.

Daddy tosses the sac-a-lait into the ice chest. I am proud to have caught the first fish of the day. I feel lucky like we might have enough to invite family over for a fish fry. Everybody brings their own beer. Sac-a-lait battered in seasoned cornmeal and deep fried. Sometimes the fins are so crispy we eat them. Mama always has a loaf of bread on the table in case anyone gets a needle-like bone caught in their throat.

Daddy fishes with two hooks: one low for the catfish and the other higher up the line. Daddy does catch a catfish: a slick, almost lavender one in the shadows of the willows. He uses pliers to remove the hook and holds the catfish carefully so he isn’t stung by the barbed whiskers. Good eatin’ Daddy says. He put up a good fight. I love the fight most of all.

This day I catch a Gaspergou. It is big and fights like a man. I sweat in the sun’s heat. This big fish fights so hard. I pull, pull, pull and reel fast. Daddy holds the net near the water’s surface. How big will it be? We are both excited. It’s big and Daddy says, They’re no good unless you cook it in a courtboullion. We both know Mama will have nothing to do with it. Daddy wants to throw it back in the water, but I start to cry. We fish until the sun is low on the horizon.

At the boat landing, we are dirty and tired. The boat is full of trash: beer cans, wrappers, and a few thin streaks of muddy blood.  Daddy tells a Creole boy, who helps us put the boat back on the trailer, that I caught a Gaspergou. The boy licks his lips and smiles. I smile too, shyly. Daddy opens the ice chest and holds up the Gaspergou. The sun’s just now set but the silhouette of the fish is delineated starkly. The last streak of light is fuchsia and orange. I get into the front seat of the station wagon. In the rear-view mirror, I see Daddy giving the teenager the Gaspergou and the very last Schlitz.

 

©2017 Clare L. Martin

Out of Darkness

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Last night, after art-making, tea-drinking, candle-gazing, and family-loving, I went to bed un-sleepy to pray.

Knowing the night was long, dark, evoking all that darkness does, I prayed for resolution in hearts and minds of things that brew in darkness.

We are here again, in light, breathing light itself. Turn your sight to suns even if they are obscured by ominous portents. And in night, let stars fill you–

Know the Light of All to illuminate your souls.

“Marsh Song I”

marsh-song-1“Marsh Song I*” Mixed media, Clare L. Martin ©2016
Inspiration—

We drive westward along the Louisiana coast on a crumbling highway with my parents. The sky purples with becoming light. Our bellies are full of boudin and cracklins. Hot coffee is handed carefully from the front seat to my husband and I seated in the back.

We sing “J’ai Passe Devant Ta Porte” or “Bon Vieux Mari,” called by my mother and responded to by my father. Always my father embellishes his responses. My mother rolls down her window and points to the Roseate Spoonbills lifting from their roosts. My father stops singing and praises God.

A prayer is said for loved ones, wherever they are. More of the morning sky erupts over the marsh. I think of painters, how I wish to be one, how I have tried with my words. This day we are traveling to see Sandhill Cranes that have been spotted in Creole, a few miles from here. We always take the scenic route and happily travel from dawn to dusk.

How many times have we come to this slipping away land and been blessed by our forgetfulness of the world’s problems and our own? Countless. How much do I miss these two people who gave and saved my life? My longing cannot be measured.

To treasure the dead is our inheritance.

*I dedicate this artwork and these words to my beloved family, especially to my deceased loved ones, wherever they are.

 

Clare L. Martin

Manifesto of the Beloved Self

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I free myself from the religiosity that ruled my psyche during my upbringing and policed my adulthood. I free myself from the repression of my sexuality which has harmed my ability to be intimate with the humans I choose to have relationships with, sexually or not. I free myself from self-denial of my beauty and worth inside and out. I free myself from my lingering judgments of other’s choices about their own identities and bodies. I free myself from lies I told to myself about my own identity and body.

I choose to spiritually and intellectually evolve on a daily basis. I choose to learn something new every day. I choose to give more than I receive. I choose to listen more than I talk. I choose to value silence. I choose to honor the energies within and without me that serve as guides for healthy spirituality. I choose to love my neighbor as myself. I choose to love the broken beloveds. I choose to walk the healing path. I choose to seek clarity. I choose to be a visionary. I choose to not fear death, but not run to it. I choose to believe in God.

I will live a radical life. Where there is hatred, I will sow love. I will never believe all is lost. If it is necessary to part from another human I will try my best to do so in peace. I will do so privately and without spreading negativity through other people. I will think before I speak. I will not allow other people’s anger to become absorbed into my body or psyche. I will form healthy boundaries in all relationships for the protection of all. I will respect the space and time of others. My radical agenda will be formed in spirit and acted out in flesh, spirit, and soul.

I will pray continually in all acts, in each breath. I believe a prayer is as much an act of the body as it is of the mind and heart. I will pray with my body through physical activities that nurture and heal me. I will eat nutritional foods and eat mindfully. I will drink purified water. I will share food with loved ones and when my resources allow I will feed those less fortunate than myself.

I will open my mind to new definitions of love. I will not close the door to love in any form. I will enrich my relationships by giving trust more easily. I will share ideas more freely. I will give support readily. I will also take care of myself and not undervalue my work. I will not waste time.

 

This is the manifesto of the beloved self.