“Feminine Abstract” by Clare L. Martin, charcoal on paper, digitized, filtered. 2016.
“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
after a mixed media art piece in the Angel Bath series by Dennis Paul Williams
The fetal heart stops
in a globe of light
their way through flesh
her cheek depressed
a doctor’s thumbprint
gray washes into amber
soft, blooded veins—
her mother bears
the crown of thorns.
Desiccation we know
because the artist
layers each dream
upon the other
the artist dreams
these dreams for us
to show us
when waters rise
when rains fall.
When mothers suffer
up to their necks
reach for the ceiling
pray for lightning bolt holes
through the roof: a delivery
of a different kind
the ever-ghost children
quickly go to ground—
still-hearted and all.
©2016 Clare L. Martin
The angel with two chalices draws water to water. Its wings seem bloodied. Its feet are bare, placed in water and on land. A brilliant light shines between two peaks far behind the angel. Irises bloom near the cool, clear pool. The angel has a radiance in the position of the third eye. How this card speaks to me! Temperance: I have yet to find it in my circumstances now, perhaps ever. I am always flowing up a swollen river, or down in fast currents, gasping for breath. I want to be of the nature of water. I want to flow between two chalices in an angel’s hands. I want to give refreshment and seep through mountains. I want to flow from and to a greater Source. Temperance for a sick mind means the realization of humanness, the discarding of perilous fantasies. I am not a winged being of God’s favor. But holy, all the same.
Ten of Swords (Love)
My heart is big. It pumps hard. Sometimes it drains and there is no blood left. It beats like a fish-out-of-water. I get mixed up. I put trust in the man with ten swords in his back, silver coins dropping from his tongue. But I know Truth, and with It I cut through the thickest night. How does a person not be themselves? I was born this way. I was born to put everything on the table with only a pair of deuces in my hand.
The Star holds two vessels.
Her companion crow, teacher, stills the picture with its black eye. The Star pours liquid essence. (I am pouring essence). The lights of heavens surround us. She returns water-to-water. She is in her purest form. An Eve, woman essential, near a body of water.
We will replenish
and be replenished.
Queen of Wands
She bears a flame crown upon her head and her scepter is a bough blooming with fire flowers. A cat curls in her lap. Her feet are bare. Her feet rest upon the head of a lion. It’s hide, a carpet. It’s teeth and claws preserved and prominent. Her armies are like the lion she rules. Defenders and fierce attackers. She is at the helm. I am a helmswoman. I carry a sword. I sit on a gilded throne. You would not recognize these trappings as such but I dare you to look into my eyes and doubt my authority.
Eight of Coins, Knight of Coins, Six of Coins, all drawn. Coins in our soup enrich nothing. Coins in our pockets carry us only as far as imagination does. We are gathering our coins, pulling them from all corners. We empty out pockets. Dig the mason jars from the garden buried beneath the sweet olive. All the coins pocketed after buying laundry detergent, cat food, toilet paper. Holy coins; tangible as bread. We hold these coins in fists to be their worth. Will they last? What do they impart to us? What transformative magic? If we had rooms full of coins, gold, silver, would we be holy? Would we ascend to Heaven? Would we walk the earth desolate and tormented too fat to fit through the eye of the needle?
Two of Wands
I assess the room; eliminate three perceived threats before you enter. I know your fatal weakness before you speak. It is in your gait and your shoulders. I know this because I see the burden you carry. My exit’s plotted. Everything’s set, Two of Wands. Two times you have entered my life at critical junctures. This is the last. You tell me you have fifty thousand dollars to your name and that you are going to spend it on a sailboat. Goodbye is why we are meeting tonight. I know better than to try to change your mind. You are going to that metaphor we will name “the Atlantic.”
They carry her to the inner chamber and place her high upon the bed. They tie her hair to the frame, braid by braid. Through the window, she sees the fires of the city, a full moon. She sees the stars constellate. The room is dark and scented with Frankincense. The man enters wearing a silk dressing-gown. He breathes with difficulty as he approaches her. He carries a platter of sweetmeats and a chalice of fresh wine. She begins to cry out. The man places a soft cloth in her mouth. Her eyes skitter like spiders held to a burning match.
Four of Swords
I’d like to think your seclusion is temporary. Our time here is temporary. You told me you are going to sail to Istanbul. I will never know if you made it to Turkey. There is dire political unrest there now. I don’t know if you were aware. Too much grief in your heart to read the news? It wasn’t hard to put the pieces together: You probably would leave your ID behind. No way to track your purchases before you leave to indicate what you are planning to do. You said you only told me. Why did you burden me? Of all people. Maybe this was a blessing? I’m trying to figure it out.
I pulled the Four of Swords.
Respite. Rest. Repose. Replenishment. Solitude. Exile. Retreat. Abandonment.
These divinations are mine this time.
©2016 Clare L. Martin
*These writings originated from J.K. McDowell’s WRITING PROMPT: Texas Hold’em Tarot Divination Writing Prompt using The Medieval Scapini Tarot by Luigi Scapini dealt to group in a Texas Hold’em pattern and “played” as a writing game. As I am devling further I am adding pieces to the series.
I am thrilled to announce that Yellow Flag Press will publish Seek the Holy Dark as the 2017 selection of The Louisiana Series of Cajun and Creole Poetry. Great thanks to J. Bruce Fuller for this honor. Yellow Flag Press is a Louisiana-born publishing house that is growing its national presence. I have had a long relationship with it, and I can’t think of any other affiliation that would make me as happy.
A little backstory:
For a long period of time since my mother’s death in May of 2014, I felt aimless. I was writing, but I did not have a meaningful writing project in front of me to keep me focused on the bigger picture of my Writing Life. I had material for a new manuscript, tentatively titled “Broken Jesus,” that I began to assemble after Eating the Heart First was published. Over the course of a couple of years, I abandoned hope for it and just kept writing new.
Several months ago, while having coffee with The Bayou Mystic, Bessie Senette, I expressed my feelings of a lack of purpose beyond my personal responsibilities and our writing group’s objectives. She knew that I had relinquished my roles in many of the projects I had been involved with before my mother’s death. She also knew that was very hard for me, because of my giving and ambitious nature. The deep dissatisfaction I had been living with was causing depression beyond normal grief.
Bessie listened as I shared my feelings. After a silence, Bessie stood, pointed her finger between my eyes, and said, “You need to write another damn book!” As soon as she said it, I was taken aback. I went home with a charge of energy to do exactly what she said to do. I got to work with real determination.
In December 2015, in a casual conversation, I brought up the work I was doing to J. Bruce Fuller at a writing event we were attending in Arnaudville, LA. He offered to read the manuscript. When I sent it, I had a sense that if I had to face a “no” I would reluctantly consider other options. Honestly, from that moment in Arnaudville when the opportunity opened, I desired for Seek the Holy Dark to be a YFP book. I have always had great faith in J Bruce’s integrity and the good health of his press.
[Surprisingly, in less than three days of receiving the publishing news, the cover art was selected and rights acquired. That is another story that involves my dear Bessie!!]
I am thrilled, ready, excited, and focused to bring this new work to the world. I again express thanks to J Bruce Fuller and Yellow Flag Press for this amazing opportunity.
And great thanks to Bessie for seeing my need and calling forth my energy to fulfill it.
Reflecting on how important it is when you are living and working as an artist to be honorable in your dealings. Really, in any field. Be honorable in your dealings and treat people with respect. I am humbled to be able to do for others what has been done for me.
Business of any kind is about relationships. My parents were in business for over 30 years and they knew that to build anything lasting you had to be honorable and be forthright in your exchanges with the public and in private.
If we are to survive in any community, in effort to build that community, you cannot go behind other people’s backs and perpetrate takeovers and such. Especially in the arts, we have to be on the same side and create healthy relationships. If there are weeds in the garden, they must be uprooted.
When my son died ten years ago, I dedicated myself to The Writing Life. When my dad died seven years ago, I began the manuscript that became Eating the Heart First. I am directed now to express music, because it has been my longest love; and one from which I was parted, on the deep level I consciously and unconsciously sought.
My path of healing in this grief journey, after my mother’s passing, is to follow the music.
My mother and father sang to my brother and me all of our lives. Singing was a happy time with us as a family. I believe I was singing before I knew words.
My mother worked for many years at Lafayette Drug Company which was also a record store. She had quite the collection. I spent all of my allowance on records. I played them constantly. I would set the phonograph to continually play one side of a record while I slept, by swinging that arm out, or would stack as many records as could be held on the turntable, depending on the stereo I had at the time. I went through quite a few.
Once, my dad found a small electric organ in the trash and brought it home. It still worked. I tried to teach myself songs from a songbook my mother had kept from her childhood. Any time I was near a piano, I asked to play it, even though I had no knowledge of it other than to strike the keys and discover a melody that was summoned from my heart into my mouth. I would la la la or make up lyrics and sing out, likely annoying everyone in the house. My nanny, our Aunt Dee Dee, gave me a harmonica one year for Christmas. She put it in a toothpaste box inside a large cardboard box. I was ecstatic when I figured out it wasn’t toothpaste! I spent many hours of my childhood here at my grandparents’ home swinging and singing my own made-up songs under the oak tree. These are some of my most cherished memories of early life.
I was given 3 guitars as presents growing up. One got broken, one I still have, and another I traded for an acoustic I still own, too. I played devotedly for about four years, from age seventeen to twenty one and then let it go—
Music is an integral part of my daily life, whether it is for enjoyment, inspiration, or if it helps to facilitate mediation and sleep. In my book of poetry, there are poems written after dreams of playing instruments (in the dreams only), and the music that was produced in those dreams was unlike anything I have ever heard. Astonishingly beautiful and complex music. The palpable longing in the poems “Her Body Desires the Instrument” and “What I Long for In Dreams,” collected in Eating the Heart First, is the ache of necessity to be able to create the music in me. I can barely do this at this point, after not playing for nearly 25 years. I have forgiven myself and let go of the guilt and heartache produced from staring at my guitars for decades, as though playing them would never be a part of my life again.
I made a choice just a month or so ago to buy a new guitar and it was one of the best decisions of my life. If I had not bought it, I would either be in a mental hospital or dead, and that is not an exaggeration. It has been a salve to my soul and I am caring for it as an extension of myself, a necessity to my living being.
I identify as a creative. No other labels will suffice. A plus of being a poet, calling myself that for ten years, is that I have an edge with lyrics and an ease of process in creating them. Now to explore the instrument of my choosing, which for now is the guitar. Who knows where it will lead, but all I care about is this healthy, healing outlet, creative satisfaction and joyful pleasure. My family seems to be enjoying it and I have their support and respect.
My own excitement is almost excruciating. I am having a blast! When I see friends or meet new people, I ask them to give me the inside of their wrist, so I can gently rub my callused fingertips on that spot. Call me crazy, but watch out—I might be a one-hit wonder. I might get paid royalties for a song I write. I actually was in communications tonight with a person who has a connection to Nashville recording businesses. Not ready for that but everything worthy starts with a holy dream and that is how I see this new direction, this new exploration. This guitar costs me nothing but the intial price (not very much) and the time, care and attention I give to playing. I have found that playing cycles healing energy and recycles negative energy into a positive.
Maybe I will only share my music with with my closest family and friends, but I am doing it and loving it at a time when I could have completely fallen apart. It is also leaving a positive impression on our daughter–the lesson that you can dream and you can commit to learn something new every day of your life.
And thank God for that.
Dream of the White Horse
I dream I am night-blind
I am astride
a vivid white horse,
but only when planets
position to my favor.
Oh, to dream
of The White Horse
is salvation; a blessing
ineffable and sublime.
Once, I dreamed the car
I was driving
went over a bridge,
and I woke
How do dreams linger
to create a haze out
of our entirety of days?
Peculiar and forceful,
sometimes made of metal,
my enemies arise
in queer movies,
I have got to get my shit together,
this dream says;
or portrays me
as The Rider: legs
tight against hide.
The White Horse and I
share instinct and will.
The sense of this beast
that is ethereal, and yet
she is tremendously strong.
Oh, spirit, gift of perception,
visit me tonight.
©2014 Clare L. Martin
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.
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.
All rights reserved