In March, it will be fourteen years since my son, Adam, died. He died March 15th, 2004.
I recalled yesterday something my daddy said, a few years before he died in 2007. It was a statement he made out of the blue when I was driving him to have lunch together. He said, “We did good, didn’t we?” I answered, “What do you mean?” He replied, “We did good by Adam.” I said, “Oh yes! Never worry about that because we did our very best.” That comforted him. He was devoted, as we all were, to Adam. Adam had the best loving care all of his life.
When I got pregnant at fifteen, if my parents were in shock or upset, they didn’t let on. They immediately came to my side and supported me. I wanted to have an abortion. This did trouble them, as Catholics. But, my mom looked into it, calling the clinic in Baton Rouge. She also spoke with a priest she was close to who told her, when she said that I was suicidal about it all, that God would forgive us and to save my life. Hard to imagine, right? That conversation did take place.
Some other things happened that I won’t say, but ultimately I decided to keep my baby. All the stress in me dissipated after that and life was relatively peaceful at home. My daddy brought me breakfast in bed daily to make sure I was eating healthy. My parents owned a small business and they built a room that served as a nursery and small kitchen so that they could care for my baby while I was at school. The tranquility disappeared when my baby was born at 26 weeks, weighing only two pounds, two and a half ounces.
For four months after Adam was born, we lived in crisis. He had so many close calls, life and death ones. Calls from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in the wee hours telling us to come to the hospital because Adam was blue, not breathing, and his heart had stopped were frequent. Trauma after trauma after trauma.
Adam came home in December of 1984. He was born in August. I had expected a healthy baby and Adam wasn’t. I had only just turned 16 when he came home. I was shell-shocked with all of the traumas we had gone through with Adam. I rebelled and acted out with anger. I struggled to accept Adam the way he was when he didn’t hit the development marks a child of his age should. Slowly we were learning of his disability. He never walked or talked. He couldn’t hold his head up. His developmental age was determined by doctors as two months old.
It was my now husband, Dean, who helped me come to acceptance of my child in deeper ways. While my parents were primary caretakers, I grew able to take on more roles related to his care. It was Dean’s gentle manner with Adam and special care he showed him that inspired me to open up more. I had been shut down because of the trauma of the NICU, the development of seizures, and Adam’s lack of development. All of it frighted me. I was afraid to love Adam because I was afraid to lose him. I believed it was all my fault. It wasn’t no matter what the gossipers said. Of course, I loved my baby from his moment of birth until his awful death in 2004.
My parents never faulted me for the reticence I felt. My mother only gently encouraged me to open my heart. In the nineteen years we had with Adam, I count all of the blessings. He could have died the night he was born. He could have died many times after that. I was graced with time to learn to fully mother him. I was graced with the strength to be able to be his guardian in all care given to him. I was able to be the mother he needed me to be. I have the memory of his laughter. That is a gift. Nineteen years was a gift. Adam was a gift. His life was longer than any of us could have expected, considering his disabilities and health issues.
There’s so much more to Adam’s story. We were the lucky ones to know and love him. Here are two poems I wrote for him, one while he was still alive, and one just a week or so after his death from septicemia due to recurring bouts of pneumonia.
Both are collected in Eating the Heart First (press 53, 2012).
“After The Reception,” 1887, by Douglas Volk (1856-1935)
I am a native of Louisiana. I have lived here all my life. I am entranced by its diversity of landscapes and natural beauty. Many of my poems use nature as a metaphor or a sensory starting point.
I want to say a little something about my writing life. I was a teenage mom. My son was born three months premature. At fifteen, this was an unbelievably traumatic experience. My son was severely disabled. We loved and cared for him for 19 years, until his death in 2004. I had always wanted to be a writer, but I was not fully focused on it until Adam’s death. In his memory, I began furiously writing poems. training myself by writing, making mistakes, and revising poems to a fine finish. I have two collections of poetry now. Eating the Heart First (Press 53, 2012) in which “Any Winter Sunday in Louisiana” is collected, and Seek the Holy Dark, which came out this year from Yellow Flag Press.
I read quite a bit of contemporary poetry as editor of MockingHeart Review, and for pleasure and instruction. I trace my lineage to poets that I sought out feverishly over the years. A few of them are Sharon Olds, Margaret Atwood, Anne Sexton, James Dickey, Sylvia Plath, Gerard Manly Hopkins, Rainier Maria Rilke, and Wallace Stevens–icons who I adore.
“Any Winter Sunday in Louisiana” came to me from the many memories of making gumbo, car rides through coastal parishes, sights of burning sugar cane, knowledge of our fauna. This poem’s subject is a mythical woman who takes on the glory of all things Louisiana. She grows beyond the sensual woman into a symbol of the state itself, natural, exotic, erotic, palpable beauty. I hope you enjoy it and allow the words into your heart.
Come to Louisiana someday and you will get a sense of what generated this poem.
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.
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?
My info for the 2017 Louisiana Book Festival. I do hope you can enjoy this literary celebration with us! Seek the Holy Dark (Yellow Flag Press, 2017) is one of the featured books.
2:15 p.m. to 3 p.m.
State Library, Fifth Floor Capitol View Room
Louisiana Poets, Part II
3:15 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Barnes & Noble Bookselling Tent