“Gestation” by Clare L. Martin
(watercolor, color pencil, crayon, charcoal on paper, digitized, filtered).
“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
Sometimes when I enter the pool, even when I am swimming, I think “this doesn’t seem real.” I don’t sense that I am present in my body at that moment. But then, body memory takes over and my mind follows. These are the best times, when my mind senses and recognizes that I am in the moment, in the pool, synced with my body so that all of me is coalesced in the present. Then, each breath, each moment is aligned with thought, and form becomes essential. My thought turns to prayer, or a mantra, and my body’s movement is prayer as well. I am a ‘living prayer,’ and not unlike a dance, my focused attention is on form, flow, freedom.
What I hope to achieve in the nine sessions of working with women clients of Acadiana Outreach is to give participants, through a structured, weekly creative writing workshop, tools to strengthen their ability to name thoughts and emotions and convey them artistically, and poem-making skills which may lead to positive breakthroughs and life-happenings by tapping into the resilience of the creative mind.
By offering skill-building creative writing exercises and prompts, sharing empowering literary works, and allowing for free-writing time, I hope to inspire participants to be able to create something beautiful, honest and uniquely their own through the craft of poetry. By creating a safe and nurturing atmosphere in our group sessions, I hope the participants will have the assurance to reach into their creative minds to find deeper self-awareness, keys to success, and possibly true healing.
In my own personal experience, creative writing has led me out of despair, allowed me to express joy and love in sensory, beautiful language, and come to a place where I feel honored to be me. It is my hope that participants will find their “true voices” via new creative skills that may give rise to creative problem-solving in circumstances they face in their everyday lives.
Art is vital and necessary, and creative acts are transformative. We can transform. We can rise above and live in hope. The positive effects of writing our very lives can lead one out of places of darkness. I believe that through creative writing, through the process of discovery and poetic documentation, we can find our way, recover and thrive.
I am committing to this project enthusiastically to be able to interact with these women, lead them to new awareness and appreciation for poetry as a vital tool of self-expression. I am committed to the work, and have great hopes for this project.
Clare L. Martin’s debut collection of poetry, Eating the Heart First, was published fall 2012 by Press 53 as a Tom Lombardo Selection. Martin’s poetry has appeared in Avatar Review, Blue Fifth Review, Melusine, Poets and Artists and Louisiana Literature, among others. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Dzanc Books’ Best of the Web, for Best New Poets and Sundress Publication’s Best of the Net. Her poems have been included in the anthologies The Red Room: Writings from Press 1, Best of Farmhouse Magazine Vol. 1, Beyond Katrina, and the 2011 Press 53 Spotlight. She is a lifelong resident of Louisiana, a graduate of University of Louisiana at Lafayette, a member of the Festival of Words Cultural Arts Collective and a Teaching Artist through the Acadiana Center for the Arts. Martin founded and directs the Voices Seasonal Reading Series in Lafayette, LA, which features new and established Louisiana and regional writers.
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.
“Mute” first appeared in Blue Fifth Review, the blue collection 1, anthology series, 2010 and is collected in Eating the Heart First (Press 53, 2012)
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
I took an hour from my day for quiet outdoors. I gazed into the slow current of the Vermilion Bayou from the vantage point of a deck overlooking the bayou at a local park. Thin limbs floated in line with thatch and fallen leaves. Trees, on the opposite bank, were reflected in the muddy water and swayed against watery sky.
I couldn’t help thinking of my father and cried a bit. He knew this bayou well. He had fished and boated in it when he was a boy, and as an adult, he frequently he traveled it down all the way to the Vermilion Bay to get to Cypremort Point. We had a camp there for a time when my brother and I were small children.
My father almost drowned in the Vermilion. I wrote a poem about it, “Father Almost Drowning” that first appeared in Poets & Artists and is collected in Eating the Heart First. On my father’s casket, we displayed another poem I had written about his life. In the quiet moments of this exceptional spring afternoon, I thought of how much my father has done for me since his death.
I believe we are spirits in flesh. My father’s spirit has gently cautioned me at various times when I was running headlong into harmful choices or getting involved in matters that were detrimental. I truly believe our dead loved ones are protectors and guides. So, I reflected on him and his otherworldly wisdom, and gave myself over to the Divine Whatever.
I knew I was being called to water today. This morning when I was bathing, I thought of one summer weekend that we had spent at the camp at Cypremort Point. There are so many memories, but this particular memory was of a time that we went to church barefoot. It was a moment that really caused great distress for me. As I recall, our shoes were wet and muddy from play. My mother wouldn’t allow us to wear them to church. That Sunday morning, we had our baths and dressed in clean summer clothes but my mom wouldn’t let us put the dirty shoes on.
I remember looking at my bare feet as I sat in the pew feeling self-conscious and strange. I looked up insistently at my mother for some kind of calm and she whispered, “God just cares that you are clean.” I laugh at this because clean or dirty, I believe we are cared for. It was a moment that made me actually laugh out loud this morning as I was getting clean.
And I am “getting clean” in other ways. I am de-cluttering my head, cleaning the metaphorical window that offers in/out views. Even though I always have meditative moments in my bath ritual, and have sporadically used relaxation techniques and meditation techniques for years, I had not set forth to actually practice on a daily basis. Now it is a priority for me. My new steps in “getting clean” are practicing mindfulness, setting aside two-half hours for meditation, going to church when no services are being held just to sit in silence, and joining up with a group that meets for meditation.
To quiet ourselves and find the silence within, allows for changes in perspective and deeper perceptions. In these silences, images and ideas for poetry are flooding in and I have greater access to the deeper parts of myself that lend wisdom to incorporate into creative writing. It was really cool that a few weeks ago Margaret Gibson Simon (who blogs at Reflections on the Teche) led a meditation writing workshop at Acadiana Wordlab. I always long to go deeper, and I do, obviously, when I am writing and “in the zone.”
All in all, I feel energized, new, and more deeply committed to myself, my people and the Divine Whatever. I wish you peace and wellness.
P.S. I saw the trailer for David Lynch’s documentary, “Meditation, Creativity, Peace” http://meditationcreativitypeace.com/ and I really want to see it. There is a form on the website that offers anyone to send a message if you want to coordinate a screening in your hometown. I am thinking about it!
If you would like to experience something great go to http://www.meditationoasis.com/ I have been using this particular site for about a week.
So many struggles in recent months that I will not reiterate here, but the resulting choice made at my wit’s end was to go on a retreat at Casita Azul, in Grand Coteau a couple of Saturdays ago. My greatest need was silence and a soft place to hold me as I was worn out from deep, constant grief.
When I go to the Casita, which has been a place of refuge for many years now, I usually don’t set rules for myself, except that I will do as I please and only as I please. Of course my pleasure is in the self-nurture and sacred alone time and not to trash the place! This time I did set one rule for myself: No music with lyrics. I wanted all the words in my head to be my own. I only listened to ambient music or instrumental music. I wanted the intangible things in my head and heart to un-spool against lovely, liquid music.
The ten year anniversary of Adam’s death brought out anticipated grief but the intensity was unexpected. Much of my creative work has been an exploration of grief. The whole of Eating the Heart First is saturated with it. But something I learned in the past couple of weeks is that there is no bottom of grief, you can go to extreme depths and keep going.
At the Casita, I realized that no one, no other human, could go to those depths with me. What was revealed to me was that while surrender to my emotions was necessary, and the tears, too, were necessary, the only way to arise, awaken and literally stay alive was to ask the “Divine Whoever” for healing.
I have cried more in the past year than any year of my adult life. It is a good thing and I attribute it to many incredible positive things that have been happening in my life. I am more fully aware of my feelings and I honor them by not suppressing them. I had become so hard, and that is not who I want to be. The tears are sacred and I am grateful for them. I am glad to have broken open. I am opening to allow something great and divine to enter.
Since I have returned home after that short but important stay, I have begun a twice a day meditation practice. I still go to my Bathtub Refuge to thinkcrypraymeditate, but the practice I am doing as a new habit is part of a series of guided meditations that I discovered on this website. There are probably many other sites that offer good ones, but this is where I am for the moment.
I am a private person, believe it or not, but I like to share intimate moments of my own journey as inspiration. We are here to lift, love, and support each other, are we not?