Available on Amazon and through Nixes Mate Books.
Available on Amazon and through Nixes Mate Books.
In January of 2017, I facilitated “Writing Hope” with women being assisted to transition from homelessness by Acadiana Outreach, as six-week poetry writing workshop and reading of the women’s work at Saint Barnabas Episcopal Church.
My second full-length poetry collection, Seek the Holy Dark, was released at The Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference (AWP) in Washington D.C. I read with other Yellow Flag Press poets, and poets affiliated with Gigantic Sequins Press and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette at George Washington University Textile Museum. I belatedly celebrated my daughter’s 21st birthday in D.C. with her!
March was the Lafayette book release of Seek the Holy Dark at Reve Coffee Roasters. Friends far and near came and it was wonderful. As part of the promotion of the book’s release, I was interviewed on KRVS by Judith Meriwether and an article appeared locally in The Independent.
In April, I read at the Maple Leaf Bar. Such a wonderful thing to connect more deeply with poet-friends in NOLA in 2017. Also, in April I was invited to read at the State Library by Poet Laureate Peter Cooley.
Later in the month, I organized a reading with Jack Bedell and Darrell Bourque (current and former Poet Laureates, respectively) at the Paul and Lulu Hilliard Art Museum, to celebrate Yellow Flag Press’s Louisiana Cajun and Creole Series designees, as the three of us are.
Mid-April, I started a new job with Childress Communications as a content writer and ghostwriter! I also joined Connections Professional Networking and PRAL Acadiana to help my friend-boss, Dr. Cynthia Childress grow her firm.
In June, I was a featured poet at the Latter Library in New Orleans, thanks to poet Gina Ferrara. Always love my traveling Fairy Godmother, Bessie Senette, who is a love whirlwind in my life and shared so much of this exciting year with me.
October marked the occasion of the Louisiana Book Festival at which I was a featured author. As a panelist, I read with other women poets of Louisiana, selected by Current Poet Laureate, Jack Bedell.
November was the 10th Annual Festival of Words, which was heartily celebrated in Grand Coteau.
In December, I attended the Penchant Group’s first women’s’ writing retreat at the cabin in the woods (a wonderful spot at Chicot State Park, LA). It snowed!!
I edited and published three issues of MockingHeart Review, and interviewed several MHR poets (as many as I could muster).
I also organized, with musician and teacher, Esther Tyree, a Hurricane Harvey fundraiser at Artmosphere. Highlights continued with readings around Acadiana with dear poet friends.
Whew! Despite boughts of severe depression and financial trauma, I am so proud to say that I am sharing my gifts with the world.
Clare L. Martin’s second collection of poetry, Seek the Holy Dark, is the 2017 selection of the Louisiana Cajun and Creole Series by Yellow Flag Press. Her acclaimed debut collection of poetry, Eating the Heart First, was published by Press 53. Martin’s poetry has appeared in Thrush Poetry Journal, Poets and Artists, and Louisiana Literature, among others. She founded and edits MockingHeart Review.
“Marsh Song I*” Mixed media, Clare L. Martin ©2016
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
“Embryonic Self*,” mixed media, by Clare L. Martin
A tree held in its branches
a womb that carried me.
My strong heart
beat brilliant red
through fluid translucence.
A thick cord
connected me to roots
of the tree
into the blood
of the earth.
Who knew I would experience
such sorrow, such joy
once born into the world?
*Dedicated to Bessie Senette.
Clare L. Martin ©2016
Mother, the words are coming: grace, strength, devotion, blessed—but these words cannot contain you. You are newborn stars, the very dust of all creation. Now, you are constellations light years away, or all of them—infinite, imperceptible, radiant, every bit of matter and non-matter. You are the exhalations of suns, pristine molecules and all the subatomic reasons for love. You, beloved, sought the wind in our souls; were born of nurturing earth and rain into something holy, and you never turned away. The mind of God knew you before you were you. I cannot touch you any longer, even as I reach, but you know these words before I speak them. You see our myriad paths beyond time and space. You appointed my still-beating heart. Oh, to tell you what joy you were, are and ever will be! All that matters now is that you are free and that your voice is part birdsong, part thunder, part the sound of planets forming. Bells are ringing as you enter the heaven of it all. Be now released into the formlessness we cannot know until we join you.
For my mother who passed away May 27th, 2014.
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.
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
Yesterday I visited Adam’s grave. I parked my car, turned the engine off, and spotted the white angel that serves as his marker. When he was buried, I remember how concerned my mother was about the upkeep of the grave. I told her it didn’t matter to me; that who Adam was as a human being was not in that grave. At the time, I did not even think I would visit his grave, but would honor his memory in my heart. But, over the past ten years I have returned many times, parked my car and trained my eye on that white angel.
I knew my mother had acquired that angel on her own, that it wasn’t part of the pre-need package deal that we set up with the funereal home years before his death. After I left the graveyard, I called my mother and asked her where she got the angel. She thought for a few minutes and told me that she had gone to Chastant Brother’s Feed Store off of Pinhook Road in Lafayette and purchased it. It is a concrete statue, small, of a cherub. My mother told me that she bought white enamel paint and painted it herself on the back patio of her house. I told her thank you for doing that because it serves a great purpose. My eyes are drawn directly to it and it is a simple yet beautiful reminder of Adam’s innocence.
Later in the day, I was reading in my bedroom. My daughter came in and asked me for a backrub. She is eighteen and has her first job. She has been working very hard and she really feels it in her back. I gave her a backrub and we shared a sweet moment together. She thanked me and hugged me for a long time. I rested my hand on her head, kissed her and told her how incredible she is. The thought came to me that I had one child in a grave and one in my arms. This thought caused a mixture of deep gratitude and sadness and resonant longing that permeated the rest of my day. But today, I am soaring. I have an angel in the afterlife and an angel here on Earth.
March 15th, 2004 will mark ten years since my son Adam’s death.
As I compose this blog post so many thoughts are in my head. His conception, my struggle with motherhood at 15 years old, learning that he was disabled, coming to a place of acceptance of that fact and becoming the mother he needed and that I needed to be to him up to the time of his death.
I am thinking about my mother and I going to Wal-Mart to pick out his burial clothes. Towards the end of his life, maybe the last two years, he only wore hospital gowns. We had to guess at his size when picking the blue dress shirt and slacks. The clothes were too large and the mortuary staff pinned the clothes to fit his frail and unusually small body.
I have said this before, that writing has saved my life. But even more so, the people in my life have saved my life. My parents did not abandon me. They supported me through my pregnancy and saw me through college. They cared for Adam when I could not and that in itself is a miraculous thing.
Adam had many caregivers from the time of his birth and the four months in Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, through the years he lived at home with us and from the special human-angels on staff at Louisiana Special Education Center in Alexandria, Louisiana. I know that each and every human that came in contact with Adam was guided by the Divine to see his special and loving nature. Adam taught us more than we could have ever taught him. His disability brought us to understanding, humility and tenderness. We are better for having known him. I am better for having been touched by his gracious life.
Ten years of dedication to the Writing Life. Ten years from March 15th, 2004, the day Adam died. My husband and I were on our way to the hospital to attend to him when I got the call from Dr. Buck that Adam’s heart gave out during a procedure to place a medi-port in him to give him antivirals that were maybe going to save his life.
But we knew he was dying. Adam suffered the last several months of his life with pneumonia and septicemia. The last time I saw him he was surrounded by ice because his fever was 108 degrees and rising. My God! How did he live for as long as he did in that horrible state? A few days after he died, I wrote the poem “Ice to Water.” That poem was the most difficult thing to conjure, and was written through tears, but it saved me.
My being is attuned to love. Even when I am fighting I love my way through the pain. I have had to fight all of my life for self-love, for personal justice, and for reclamation. Ten years of writing and seeking mastery of myself through the work. Ten years of working through grief, working in grief—astounding and excruciating grief. I have gone so far on the path but I am still here mourning.
I was just lying in bed talking to my husband. We were talking about his work and my work. I have made very little money in all these years, but the small amount I have made has been spent on my family. We struggle but my poetry money has made a difference when we needed a tank of gas, a pizza, or a few groceries. As I was talking, my sorrow arose and I cried. Something new is causing me grief, a new disillusionment as I continue on the path.
I have put out so much energy to write, to get published, and to grow a career in a field that does not reward in the ways we recognize as success in this world. That didn’t really bother me all along. My perspective was that this is a holy vocation and I was honoring my gifts but somewhere along the way I got conned. I began thinking of commerce and exchange—what was I getting in return? This led to a deep sadness and more tears.
In this moment, as I reflect on the passing of my son, as I write about just a few details of his incredible life, I am brought back to the reason I committed myself so deeply to this path. Honor. I wanted to honor Adam’s memory, honor my gifts, and honor the people in my life. That I was able to succeed in gaining an audience was gratifying but the whole and holy purpose was, is and always will be for me is the “creative love” in the act of writing itself. I say creative love because my creativity/love is what brought me this far and I will not lose sight of it again.
There are many projects that I bring my energy to and I will continue to do so, but if these projects become grueling or dissatisfying, I will give them up. It is not a difficult thing for me to do at all. I am not paid for any of it, except the money I might receive from selling a book here and there. I am not concerned with a “career” because what is that? I am concerned with the creative act and the product, not so much my stature anymore. I am concerned with leaving a legacy of love, and my energies will be focused from this point forward on projects and people who are aligned with this mission.