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).
“Stag” 130cm x 94cm Charcoal, Acrylic and Oil on Canvas (2014, Tom Symonds)
languishes in mist
rends its tongue
with gritted cries
on the bough
a tarot tier
ineffable with dream
on my knees
to harvest a heart
in white woods
pierces the doe
that fed on apples by the gate
rain and detritus of winter
a coyote alone
claws the mud
a stag sharpens venerable antlers
on the cleaved breast
of a five-hundred-year oak
hoofprints in snow
and silver grass
black, wet bark
haunt the grove
vulnerabilities of earth
and burning rivers
day-lit moon is a scar
hawks, the sky
the chalice and the chain
strawberry crowns for the birds
death-keeper of desire
her keen sense perturbs
the physical world
white horses flee
a merciless fog
oak, cedar, cypress
slag of gray clouds
candle wax sun
the queen’s sallow eye
that is pestilent
©2018 Clare L. Martin
12/8/17 Penchant Group’s Retreat, Chicot State Park, Louisiana
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.
Poet and author, Diane Moore, reviews Seek the Holy Dark, available from Yellow Flag Press. Thank you, Diane, for your deep reading and generosity of heart.
Seek the Holy Dark is the 2017 selection of the Louisiana Series of Cajun and Creole Poetry by Yellow Flag Press.
Seek the Holy Dark is now available. Trade paperback, 66 pages, only $10. To order click here.
For signed copies contact Clare. $10 plus $3 shipping and handling. Paypal accepted. paypal.me/clarelmartin Please note your mailing address for book shipment.
I am happy to announce that I have contracted with Childress Business Communication, a professional writing firm out of Houston founded by my friend and collaborator, Dr. Cynthia Childress, Ph.D., to work as a staff writer and editor. I am excited about this venture and have confidence in our ability to provide personalized, creative, time-sensitive, and high-quality content and editing services to clientele.
(photo by Clare L. Martin)
Sunrise, Atchafalaya Basin—
Daddy’s ankles in water as the flat-bottomed aluminum boat slides off the trailer. I put my life jacket on. Daddy says, Hold onto the rope and walk to the wharf. I board the boat carefully, so I don’t fall in the water. Daddy never wears a lifejacket. He throws the outboard into reverse then shoots out to the channel that is peppered with cypress stumps, some hidden below the waterline. Daddy knows the clear path to where the fish are hiding. Any good spot under the willow trees.
Flowing costumes of green braids—the willow-dance of the breeze. Daddy opens a Schlitz beer can and gives me a red soda pop. He baits my hook because I don’t like touching the catalpa worms with their black goo. We cast close to the ribbons of branches, being careful not to set the hooks in the trees. We’re not fishing for squirrels, Daddy says.
Sun ascends to the shoulders of the willows. We eat bologna sandwiches and chips and sip our drinks. I am getting sunburned. We are waiting for the corks to bob, pop below, and disappear under the water for good.
Daddy talks to the fish. Take it, Big Red. That worm is good. A tug, a quick jag to the right to set the hook in the fish’s mouth, then I’m pulling hard. Reel, reel, reel. The sun perch breaks the surface, shimmering iridescent reds. He is fat. He twists mid-air drowning in oxygen and blood. Daddy pulls the hook from the throat of the fish that swallowed the bait and hook. Then, as I expect, Daddy squeezes the middle of the fish and it expels urine directed at me. I squeal. Daddy knows I hate and love this. Our ritual joke.
Daddy tosses the sac-a-lait into the ice chest. I am proud to have caught the first fish of the day. I feel lucky like we might have enough to invite family over for a fish fry. Everybody brings their own beer. Sac-a-lait battered in seasoned cornmeal and deep fried. Sometimes the fins are so crispy we eat them. Mama always has a loaf of bread on the table in case anyone gets a needle-like bone caught in their throat.
Daddy fishes with two hooks: one low for the catfish and the other higher up the line. Daddy does catch a catfish: a slick, almost lavender one in the shadows of the willows. He uses pliers to remove the hook and holds the catfish carefully so he isn’t stung by the barbed whiskers. Good eatin’ Daddy says. He put up a good fight. I love the fight most of all.
This day I catch a Gaspergou. It is big and fights like a man. I sweat in the sun’s heat. This big fish fights so hard. I pull, pull, pull and reel fast. Daddy holds the net near the water’s surface. How big will it be? We are both excited. It’s big and Daddy says, They’re no good unless you cook it in a courtboullion. We both know Mama will have nothing to do with it. Daddy wants to throw it back in the water, but I start to cry. We fish until the sun is low on the horizon.
At the boat landing, we are dirty and tired. The boat is full of trash: beer cans, wrappers, and a few thin streaks of muddy blood. Daddy tells a Creole boy, who helps us put the boat back on the trailer, that I caught a Gaspergou. The boy licks his lips and smiles. I smile too, shyly. Daddy opens the ice chest and holds up the Gaspergou. The sun’s just now set but the silhouette of the fish is delineated starkly. The last streak of light is fuchsia and orange. I get into the front seat of the station wagon. In the rear-view mirror, I see Daddy giving the teenager the Gaspergou and the very last Schlitz.
©2017 Clare L. Martin
Two years ago, I was the artist contracted to work on a grant-funded project called “Transformations” which taught creative writing skills to women transitioning from homelessness and/or were in recovery who lived at a shelter-residence run by a local non-profit. I have been contracted again to do the project this year.
I begin the “Writing Hope” sessions Tuesday and continue once-a-week for seven weeks.* In the eighth week, I will host the women at their own poetry reading at a community center. I absolutely love this work. *Taking a one-week delay for AWP.
The focus of the first session will be on seeing the good in one’s self, recognizing growth, and focusing on the positive in life. Rather than delving into aspects of craft, this is a vocational effort to uplift these women, to give them hope in the new situations they will face with greater independence.
This project for non-writers is not to be dismissed as easy work. Writing is a transformative, healing art. It is my job, over the course of these many weeks, to help the women see that they can produce something beautiful because they are beautiful, creative souls.
Please send us good energy and uplifting thoughts.