“Feminine Abstract” by Clare L. Martin, charcoal on paper, digitized, filtered. 2016.
“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
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
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.
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.
I forgot who I was. I knew the age spot on my left cheek. I knew the sagging breasts and the overlapping belly. I knew my feet; my unusually small toes. I knew my eyes and what they had seen. I knew my lips, now shaded in regal purple. I knew my place in the bed next to the dog, and further away, my husband. I knew him; his wants and needs. I knew the losses: friendships, a friend forever, my father, son and now, almost seven months ago, my mother. I knew something of my values, but not as clearly: my own value. I had forgotten the tools of my fingers; except to inconsistently pleasure myself, wash my face, shave the stubble here and there, or grip a steering wheel. I knew my daughter; but already this knowing is an ocean away. I knew the reason I withdrew from an outside life that filled others more than myself. I knew the shame of saying one thing and doing another. But I had forgotten myself.
I know that in the past six months I put words on paper. I know that as soon as those words were written I forgot them. I forgot the thrill too, and felt only dislocation. I forgot the feel of words in my mouth, as though my tongue had been numbed for surgery. I forgot the clicking taps on a keyboard except for inane mumblings; wretched gloats and ambiguous streams of babble. But back to dislocation: my writing setting has been unsettled. There are two sofas in this room. One does not belong here. Things are unplugged that should be plugged in. There are china cups wrapped in newspaper in boxes that haven’t been unpacked. One curtain hangs and another needs to be hung up. Where is my grounding? Files and files and no skeleton for them. Unopened mail. Books unread. I became dislocated in the aftermath of death. I do remember the tenderest parts of me and the kisses they received.
Before I progress, I need to familiarize myself with myself. Yesterday, I wanted to disappear. I wanted to drive on a road I’d never traveled and tell no one if I was going north, south, east or west. Instead I went to a bakery and bought my favorite dessert. My husband ate half and my daughter the other. The yearning I have is to be left alone. JUST LEAVE ME THE FUCK ALONE. That has been my mantra, but I do want to engage. Those closest to me understand. I have enough time. I just need awareness of the ever-presence of the opportunity of solitude and the will to delineate myself into its holy grasp.
Drained. I have been drained. Lately, I have related an adage that came to me: “If your own kitchen is on fire and your neighbor’s house is burning, put out the fire in your kitchen and then bring water to your neighbor.” This is how I must live my life, for now, until the fire is put out, until the long task list is accomplished. I do not feel guilt for saying no. I do not feel remorse for expressing wrath when only wrath, justified, would accomplish the necessary. I had forgotten wrath. Wrath can be useful. I accept my own blamelessness.
God help those who elicit my wrath. It is life-stopping in a metaphorical way; and profoundly affecting. Good, good, good. Now you know. Now you will pay attention and show me respect. Wrath: a wolf in defense and defiance for survival. It is necessary for the continuation of my living with no ill intent at all.
I talked to a friend today. It was nice. She offered refuge and calm water. I cannot do for others outside my closest family and my core friendships. Loss. We have lost so much and I am in transition. Part of what I forgot or tried to unburden myself from was writing; what it had come to mean for me. But what it meant, or what it was starting to represent for me was obligation and burden. Yes, there is a burden to carry as a writer and almost always I carry that with joy, but the elements of operating in a society of writers was what I felt trapped by. I came to a conclusion to only write when I feel like it and to not submit my work to journals anymore unless I am solicited to do so. It is not because I feel I have reached a level of status that it is beneath me; it’s just that I am not hungry. I do not have the time to write, submit, write, submit, etc. I think of the John Lennon song’s “Watching the Wheels” because it expresses how I feel about my career as a writer.
What is it about writing that brings me joy? I am no longer playing the game. I am vitally more interested in growing my family, as we have lost so many of our blood and kin. If I can solidify my core family, blood or not, I will find that inner resolve to write something worthy and authentic. I will write words with blood-worth, with the meaning and impact that has always been my fiercest intention.
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.
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 have happy news to share with you all. I have known for a few weeks but I got permission to share publicly a bit of news that I was conceived on Valentine’s Day in 1968! This explains a lot about me and my almost crippling (being facetious) romanticism. Really the fact that I was a Valentine’s Day baby makes me feel all kinds of wonderful, and I thank my mom for letting me share this with the world. She did ask me however to keep the details of the actual conception confidential. Ha!
I visited with my mother for a little while today and she read a poem to me dedicated to a deceased loved one that meant something to her. She pulled it out of a Ziploc bag that had neatly folded sheets of newspaper clippings. I asked her, “You keep obituaries in a Ziploc bag?” She said, “Yes?” I asked her to give me a moment and I found a piece of paper in my purse and jotted the poem below down. Many of my friends know that my mother is always asking me why I haven’t written any poems about her. I have cryptically, but this one is in a new vein, and she approved it.
My mother keeps obituaries
in a Ziploc bag,
neatly-folded reminders of loss.
She always reads the obituaries
first thing in the morning,
before prayers, so that if she knows
anyone, anyone she can pray
for their souls
and the hearts of survivors.
Once at 6:00 am,
as my father handed her
the just-delivered paper,
she told me that the wife
of my favorite professor and mother
of my friend Victor, had died.
I knew Barbara, a poet herself,
had breast cancer
and was close to the end.
I dressed and peeled-out
of the driveway to Dr. V.’s house.
He was shocked to see me
and just shook his head and said,
“How? How did you know so quickly?”
My mother slips a thin
piece of newspaper
out of the plastic bag and says
it has been ten years
since my firstborn’s death.
This stops me, so I pet her dog, Demitasse.
How else could I end this poem?
©2014 Clare L. Martin