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

Skipping Stones

Lake Stones

I have seen a stone, a flat and colorful lake pebble, skipped seven times on the surface of a body of water. That is the measure of how well we skip stones, by how many skips you can get.  A man leaned in, his body angled to the lake, and with a quick and sharp swing and flick he let loose the stone. His arm followed through to the sky and I fell in love with him then, for his skill and patience. For his determination to make that smooth rock glide, touch and rise, glide, touch and rise upon the water.

He is good enough now, but once I saw him throw the cat across the room because it scratched him. (I cannot be pressed to testify but I needed to tell someone).  If he could have earned a living from skipping stones maybe he would be happy. If he had a loving father who had skipped stones with him, well maybe then, too, he would be happy. I cannot say what I feel for him: partly because I do not know and partly because I will not tell.

This blue pebble from Lake MacDonald in Glacier National Park, MT has kept me well and I have kept it well for a dozen years. I press it hard between my forefinger and thumb and it holds back the tears. But sometimes when I hold it, the tears come forcefully and I can only grip the pebble hard. My fingernails cut through the flesh of my palm.

Acadiana Wordlab product 2-1-14
© 2014 CLM

Feed your head!

MadHat Annual, Issue 15 “Eye On the World” features relevant, lucid, and provocative poetry*, fiction, drama, multimedia, audio, and visual art by artists from all over the planet.

To the brilliant artists whose contributions have made “Eye on the World” such an incredible offering, THANK YOU.

Be sure to view/experience the special video collaboration, “Refuge,” by our late founder, Carol Novack, and artist Jean Detheux.


*I’m particularly proud of the Poetry section, which was curated by Executive Editor, Marc Vincenz, Outgoing Managing Editor, Susan Lewis, and me–newbie Poetry Editor. Over 50 phenomenal poets are featured! (And I have a few poems in there as well).


Report from the Front-line (Acadiana Wordlab 8-31-13)

On Saturday, August 31st, I presented a workshop at Acadiana Wordlab, which is a literary drafting workshop directed by poet Jonathan Penton, Editor in Chief of Unlikely Stories. This was the second time I was a presenter and I was very excited for the opportunity. When planning the presentation, I wanted to aim for the “heart of the matter” and present something “meaty” and challenging to the writers that would be conducive to creative breakthrough. Apparently that was the right thing to do, because as evidenced by the examples of raw writing produced by participants, some brave, necessary, and inspired writing occurred.

I am sharing the prompts that I presented to the group and also the poem with which I began the presentation. The poem, “What We Carry” struck me as a good example to use as a prompt, as the lines could be interpreted individually since it is an “image list,” and because, as I said at Wordlab, everything we carry, even the smallest thing, has weight.

The seriousness of the business we are in was apparent by the tone of many of the pieces. I was struck by the imaginativeness and near creative ferociousness of much of the writing. I asked participants to relinquish their burdens to the page. That is not an easy thing to do and I don’t know how deep our writers went, but I was struck by how brave everyone was and by the level of trust which has deepened among many regular attendants of Wordlab.

Through the process of creative experiment/ group writing the participants made the active choice to begin new artifices. I believe we are ultimately transformed on a multiplicity of levels in striking and valuable ways through this process, and for this reason I am grateful to be an Acadiana Wordlab participant, and occasional presenter.

More information on Acadiana Wordlab, its meeting schedule and opportunities to be a participant or presenter can be found here: http://unlikelystories.org/acadiana_wordlab/

Thanks to Jonathan and all of the participants for your trust and courage.

I am sharing this poem and the prompts as an educational offering. If you choose to use them for yourself, have fun. If you choose to present them to a class, please credit me. If you would like me to present a workshop to a group, I can be contacted at martin.clarel@gmail.com


broken bottles
and rusted things

gasoline-soaked rags
a knife wet with blood

the tail feather
of a rooster

sewing needles
a burnt match

a fistful of sins

the stain of roses
a storm of horses

letters from the dead

all in solemnity
all in solemnity

embodied in the sunken hull—
itself, an ocean

Clare L. Martin


What do the dead speak? What murmurs under water, or sputters from a mouth full of dirt? What name is on their lips? What resonance in their bones permeates our conscious living? I am the dead. I am in them. I dream their lilting, cold bodies, the slack musculature, and the worm-heaven of their putrefied skulls. Sing to me of the dead, their wishes and their folly. Sing to me their misery and what is seen through their maimed glares. The dead linger here and we must hear them. The dead have something to say. What is it?


Recall one object/thing in your bedroom. It could be a memento, a gift, something you mean to discard but have not, even the covering of dust on the furniture. Describe it in detail. Describe it with love or hate. What is its significance or insignificance to you? What will you do with/to it in the future?


Write a letter to a part of your body. It could be a love letter, a Dear John, an apology, or a revelation of a secret.


You are given a magic seed. The seed can grow into anything—what is this seed and what will it become? How will you cultivate it? Does this seed change your existence?


Imagine a mist. Imagine it clouding your sight, leaving your skin wet, filling your lungs. Something emerges from the mist. What is it? What does it mean to you?


Before your death, before your last breath, you are given one wish. What is this wish? You may or may not choose to write what this wish is. Consider the implications of your death and the lasting effect of your wish.


Write about something that you wish to forget. Explore the emotions of the experience and why you want to forget this experience so desperately. End your piece with one sentence stating one thing you desperately need/want to remember.

Clare L. Martin

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.

Acadiana Wordlab (3-2-13)

What I really get out of participating in Acadiana Wordlab is that we are writing raw and uncensored in a group—and that is uncomfortable. I am forced to write outside of my comfort zone and it is scary. We had such an amazing group yesterday. There were nine of us and I led the session. It was kind of a topsy-turvy set up, which I will not elaborate upon, but I was able to focus and we all got to writing. We had great synergy and energy.  It was a rewarding experience and the writing produced that was shared by the group was strong and interesting.  I thank Jonathan Penton for organizing this project. It’s really catching on and people are writing new because of it. That is success.

This poem-in-progress was written from a free-write produced at Acadiana Wordlab yesterday (3-2-13) I do not have a title for it.

Birds fly and drop around us
into trees dressed in smoke.

The air we breathe
is a blade in our lungs.

We run into the lake
to escape a burning death.

What have we lost on a blue
morning illuminated by fire?

We live for a time in the belly
of the sleeping lake.

We raise our children
to speak fish, to know

the name of the mountain
under our feet

worn to an indecipherable
multitude of pebbles.

Summer Day, 1984


I am pregnant; fifteen years old. I am fishing with my father. The bayou is a darkened mirror. Father stands in the slow-dancing boat and draws back effortlessly to cast the line. Water silvers; streams like snakes. There are snakes, too, black ones that appear plastic and fluid: shadows of water.  There is a faint stream of motor oil—a finger-trace in the water which rings a floating Budweiser can. Cattle egrets in breeding plumage float above the bank. Father pulls in a sun perch. Its iridescent tail fans the light. We cast again, again in silence.

After my son was born my daddy told me he made a wish for me as he rolled his wrist to reach the spot where the mysteries of fish exist:

To not regret, to hold to the promises I make.



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.

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.


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.