Cracked

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Yesterday, I cracked.

A litany of horrors flooded out of me; some real, some hyperreal imaginings. I wailed to walls while lying in the cold, lavender water of the bathtub. I cried out to God to please, please allow me to ‘go away.’ I saw no resolution to my circumstances. I saw no pathway out of pain. It took all of my strength to suck up my tears when my family returned to the house, take prescribed pills and put myself to bed. I calmed a bit after a brief rest, muffling my cries in the pillow, and later rose to eat dinner with my family. I settled again to listen to ambient music, which puts me into a deeper level of being, even if I was still ragged. I fell asleep around midnight.

This morning, I knew I my psyche had been wrecked and I backed out of a commitment I had been looking forward to with a friend. I accompanied my husband as he went to a parts store to pick up a part to repair a lawnmower. We stopped on the way home to buy groceries. I rooted myself in these mundane tasks. When we returned home, I had a cup of coffee; my first of the day.

I feel stronger knowing that I have the luxurious blessing of having a supportive husband who is stable enough to stand strong when I cannot and who has enough experience with my mental health issues that he can objectively observe my symptoms and report them to my doctor or guide me in my self-care. Even if I cannot verbalize to him exactly what is going on in my mind, he cares enough to be a first-responder in my mental health care. Thank God.

I am resilient. I am not in need of a medication change. I do need to keep firm the boundaries I have set for myself and continually evaluate how and when I need to set new ones. This is life-saving. I know I can live peacefully and well within healthy relationships with healthy boundaries, and that the flow of giving and receiving will continue. I am clawing my way out of despair by acting slowly this day, seeking balance in my perspective, and writing this out.

What I must watch in myself is my nature to give. My heart ever desires to give, give, give as it beats, beats, beats. God knows this. It is how I was made. It is what makes me so vulnerable. Even now, I could begin weeping again, wringing my heart because I want to pour myself out. I want to give my all— But, I can’t. I cannot because even then, the nothing that I would be would still beat, still breathe. And what then?

And what then?

Poem after Angel Bath series by Dennis Paul Williams

Angel Bath

after a mixed media art piece in the Angel Bath series by Dennis Paul Williams

 

The fetal heart stops
in a globe of light
bones work
their way through flesh
flesh-in-water
her cheek depressed
a doctor’s thumbprint
bruises aorta
gray washes into amber
soft, blooded veins—
her mother bears
the crown of thorns.

Desiccation we know
is truth
because the artist
layers each dream
upon the other
the artist dreams
these dreams for us
to show us
what happens
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—

Beloved, loved,
still-hearted and all.

 

©2016 Clare L. Martin

Waterline

Early in their married life, my grandparents and their young family lost everything in a flood in the country outside of Youngsville. My mother told me the story many times of how my Uncle Ray had been raising rabbits and he placed them caged, high on an armoire inside the house to save them when they evacuated to the area here which was where my great grandparents lived. When my grandfather went back to the property to check on it, he tied a rope to his waist and tied the other end of the rope to a bridge rail so that if he drowned, they would be able to find his body. The rabbits had drowned. That was how high the water was. I wrote a play about it titled “Waterline” after Katrina, for Acting Up (in Acadiana), and it was performed in Lafayette, New Orleans, and New York City as part of a larger work, called “Sustained Winds.”  Here I post the play in its entirety. The character of Toby was changed to a female character played by Kara St. Clair. Bambi DeVille Engeran played the Grandmother. I believe the name of the young character was changed to Leslie. This was what was in my old file.

 

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Photo from CNN

 

Written for Sustained Winds: Before During After Now Later

 

 

Waterline (After)

By Clare L. Martin

 

3.31.06

 

 

Grandma—blind, elderly, and shut-in grandmother of Toby. She lives alone and relies on a family and neighborhood support system to live.  She is unable to evacuate and the hurricane dissolves her network of caregivers.

 

Toby—Teenage grandson unwillingly separated from his parents who were evacuated after the hurricane to unknown parts. Toby sought out his grandmother when his parents were bused out.

 

Scene— The setting is Grandma’s house.  Toby’s brushing his grandmother’s hair.

 

Grandma:  Slower.  Do it real gentle now.  Don’t hit my head when you brush me.

 

Toby: (brushing his grandmother’s long hair) Every time I hear a siren, I jump.

 

Grandma:  There’s a car coming up the driveway.

 

Toby: No there isn’t.

 

Grandma: It will.  Give it time. Since I lost my seeing, I see more clearly.

 

Toby:  Every time a car passes I think it is them—or about them.

 

Grandma:  Give it some time.

 

Toby:  I begged the soldier to put me on that bus. I lost my shoes running for them.  She was wearing red.  Dad had his Saints cap on.

 

Grandma: When your daddy was nine, your grandpa bought him four rabbits to breed.  When those floodwaters were rising, your grandpa tied a rope to his waist and the other end to the bridge over the coulee.  He tied himself like that so we’d find his body if the waters took him.

 

Toby: (stops brushing) Please don’t. Please don’t tell me that story, Grandma.

 

Grandma: The rabbits—your daddy put them in a cage on the top of the armoire, but they still drowned. That’s how high the waterline was.

 

Toby:  Maybe they’re in Texas. The soldier said the bus was going to Houston.  Dad has a friend in Houston.  I can’t remember his name.  They used to work together.  He used to live here.

 

Grandma:  Toby, do you look like your mama or your daddy? I’ve never seen you since you were a baby.

 

Toby: Mom says I look like dad and dad says I look like mom.

 

Grandma: (reaching for Toby) Let me feel you. (Grandma feels Toby’s facial features) You have your mama’s bones and your daddy’s flat nose. That’s the Guidry in you—that nose. I pray you don’t have the Guidry ears.  You could fly with those ears. Fix us something to eat, son.

 

Toby: (opens the powerless refrigerator) I—I don’t know what we have left.

 

Grandma:  What do we have left?

 

Toby: (peering into the refrigerator) I think we have to throw away the chicken. Cheese.

 

Grandma: (bolts up from her sitting position) Fool!  Are you standing with the icebox open?  You don’t stand there with the door open. You’re losing all the cold. Did you forget what was in there since the last time you looked?

 

Toby:  (closes the refrigerator door) There’s no cold left. The cheese is soft, Grandma, and the chicken stinks.

 

Grandma:  Then throw it to the cats in the street. They got two that holler all night. That mess will shut them up.

 

Toby: What can we eat?

 

Grandma: Open a can of something and bring us each a fork. We’ll take turns taking bites.

 

Toby: (opens the cabinet) A can of what?

 

Grandma:  Now, it really doesn’t matter, does it?  Open a can of food. Whatever’s in there. Don’t let the hot out of the cabinet.

 

Toby: What?

 

Grandma: That was a joke, boy.

 

Toby: Oh.

 

Grandma: (rocking herself) I miss TV.  Of course I can’t see people on it but I like the voices.  It is a good thing you made your way to my house, because I can’t stand quiet.  You’re a good boy. Did you find my medicine?

 

Toby:  (looking at bottles) Which ones do you need to take?

 

Grandma: I don’t know because I can’t see the labels.  Tilda next door reads them for me.  You can read, can’t you?  Read one and tell me what it says.

 

Toby: (looking at a bottle) Gly-bu-ride.  Take once a day in the morning.

 

Grandma:  That’s it.  That’s the one for my diabetes.  How many are left?

 

Toby: There’s ten left, Grandma.

 

Grandma:  Toby that’s ten days I’m going to feel good. I take two pills a day.  What’s the other one?

 

Toby: That bottle’s empty. Do you have another bottle in the bathroom?

 

Grandma: No—no matter.  Check the jug of ice in the freezer and see if it’s water.

 

Toby: (Toby hands Grandma a glass of water and then picks up the phone receiver) The phone still doesn’t work.  They should fix that first.

 

Grandma: They usually fix the first things last and the last things you need first.  But I wouldn’t be surprised if that phone rings any minute with your mama calling. Now brush my hair again, softly.  (Toby starts brushing his grandmother’s hair again)

 

Grandma:  You opened that icebox and now that chicken is stinking up the whole house.  Get rid of it, Toby. Give them nasty cats a nasty treat.

 

Toby: (returns from stepping out the back door) Those cats sure love that rotten chicken. They’re tearing it up.

 

Grandma:  Lock the door! Do it now!  There’re strange people on the streets. They’ll take the nothing we have and the nothing we don’t have.  It is a good thing I’m blind because I’d hate to see the hell that’s come.  Lock the doors. Do it quick. And talk low. Don’t light any candles tonight.  I heard them knocking when I was in my bed.  Did you hear it?

 

Toby: (hurriedly locks the door) No.  I didn’t.

 

Grandma:  If you weren’t here I’d be scared out of my wits.  I hear the streets.   Last night I smelled gas and smoke and somebody was knocking.   You didn’t hear the knocking?

 

Toby: No.  I slept hard for the first time since the hurricane. I dreamed I was in my house in my own bed and that music was on in another room. I smelled bacon and coffee. I didn’t wake up for anything, until the heat woke me.  The sun beat in on me from the window and I heard your cane on the wood floor. You were praying.

 

Grandma:  I know my house.  Every morning I walk and say a Rosary. Sometimes I walk and say two.  Depends on how my knees feel. If it’s raining I sit in my rocker and pray. My knees can’t take wet weather.  When I’m finished I kiss the head of that Mary. Tilda brought her in from my garden before the storm. She didn’t want her broke. When the winds hit, I said an hour straight of Hail Marys and I prayed to St. Joseph for my house to stand up and it did.  He was a builder.  He taught Jesus a trade.  What trade you learning?  You should know by now.  Your daddy still doesn’t know what he’s gonna be when he grows up.  He’s never grown up.  He plays at everything. (Grandma turns her face to her grandson) So you listened? Did you pray too?

 

Toby: I prayed the phone would ring this morning.  I prayed that bus would wait for me. I got in line for water and dad was holding my place in the bus line. I got hit and someone took all the bottles.  I ran but it was too late. I prayed I could get to your house without being killed or worse. I’m still praying but I don’t know the right words, I guess.

 

Grandma:  Just talk. Or don’t talk or think.  Listen. See? (Grandma brushes her own hair) Long strokes.   Fifty strokes, and then start all over again.

(Grandma and Toby bow heads and the scene ends)

 

***

Toby leaves Grandma to get help and search for food and water.  He is forced by circumstances to join a group of looters and steals a loaf of bread.  A voice calls out “Stop!” and Toby is shot.  He dies in the street.

 

 

 

Two days have passed since Toby left. Unaware that Toby is dead, Grandma waits in her home, praying the Rosary. She is waiting for Toby to return. Some services are restored.

 

Grandma: (Opens her bottle of pills, feels them with her fingers. Takes one and sips water.) Eight left.  Toby’s been gone two days. What else could he do?  What else could we do? I couldn’t do nothing for him, or myself. He’s a good boy. Toby’s a good boy.   Dear Lord, keep him safe in the streets.  I stayed up all night again to wait for him. (She gets angry) I’m talking to you, Lord! He’s my good boy!

 

(Phone rings.)

 

 

Grandma:  (excitedly speaking on the phone) Oh, Bobby, thank God! Y’all are safe?  Yes. I couldn’t reach you. He’s not here.  He was here but we needed—.  We’ve got water and phone now, no power and no food.  Y’all come soon, please. Good. Hurry. Two days he’s been gone. He’s a good boy, Bobby.  You’ve raised him right. Y’all come soon. He’s my good boy….

 

Grandma hangs up the phone and clutches the Rosary to her heart.  She bows her head.  Prays tearfully. Becomes silent.

 

****

Copyright Clare L. Martin 2016

A plague of emotions*

locusts

 

Before the Harvest

 

 

Locusts come in a cloud of winged thunder.
They come for the sockets and the eye itself,
(seer of all things).
They come for the marrow and curse
the bone into a galaxy of splinters.
They come to the font of the heart.
They take the very last word
as it resounds upon utterance:
                      Dust, dust, dust.

©2016 Clare L. Martin

 

*The image of locusts devouring me came to me today as I battled an anxiety attack. It sent me from an elevated happy mood into a frozen, fearful state in which I was cold and sweaty, too. I was unable to leave my bed for most of the afternoon. It wasn’t until more of this poem revealed itself to me that I was able to come to my desk and work it out. I feel better but exhausted. Writing takes the poison out.

Prompts for Poets and Writers

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Here is the workshop outline I offered yesterday to our local group of Renegade Writers. We meet every other Saturday to write new. We share the responsibility of leading the workshops on a voluntary basis. There is no requirement of attendance. We have an online presence on Facebook where we share ideas germane to writing and creative thought.  Renegade Writers

RENEGADE WRITERS
July 23, 2016
Workshop Presenter
Clare L. Martin

Music/Language


Listen to Ambient music (try Pandora’s Ambient station) without words. Let your eye zigzag around these words or your own wordlist of random words. Write down the words that resonate with you.

sin receive fabric cold heavy slice tender banal gift span taint dismal fountain bashful blend breath blue groan six fever bloom panic hallow veil frost become trill boast float grease tin capsule din air host seek whisper cannon lyrical walls toll patient aid oil hold pallor desperate temperament fecund virtual tantalize crease grind aspirate glean diamond dissonance heavens wicked stars oceans gallop crust obsidian curve rock mist colored tall river hope wood animal bell hunted believe final aspire delicious scare canopy  stairs burst kind liar shunt plastic cantor carrion shine ghost saint skin terrible flash grave fire rust fear rose brunt dire burden gloss perpetrate scandal viscerate denial vibe eat ball

Framework– Here are suggested prompts for you to get your writing started. You can go in your own direction, of course. 
Write the spell to undo a curse.

Write words of forgiveness to a person who wronged you.

Write the earliest memory of a childhood fear.

Write a dreamed nightmare.

Write details of a normal morning or evening, only imagined as extraordinary and not dull in any way.


MORE PROMPTS

Think of a gift you’ve received—It could be intangible; a propensity toward something, a talent, a sensibility. Would you give it away? Why or why not?

Choose an animal. Think of its form, its musculature, its skeleton, its hide, its eyes. Think of its habitat and its habits. Think of its place in mythology and literature. How can you incorporate this animal into a working piece of prose or poetry so that it becomes a metaphor?

Music and language are so intertwined. When we listened to music, did you have images in your mind? Visual images that popped in the visionary sight of your mind? Did you write them down? Try to remember things that you might have missed writing down. List them or check your notes and keep writing.

Discussion

What are your writing habits? How can you improve them by adapting others’ ideas as your own?    

Snake

Chinese snake painting

SNAKE

I am the world’s living river. See my tongue? Flat earth. Skin salt-smooth. Rubberized. I gleam at night. Moon ripples on water. I skim dirt. I skim ankles. Wrap cypress trees, marsh grass. Swallow the fledgling fallen from the nest. Rot, core, bone, spike, venom, blood. –My curse –My body-whip –My bone-coil. Reverberate vertebrae. Flooded, flooding. Scar tissue of man. Scarred eye. Slither, yes. Poison his firstborn. Poison his brood. Turn the earth against him until he is dead in the depths of it all.

©2016 Clare L. Martin

The prompt:

Choose an animal. Think of its form, its musculature, its skeleton, its hide, its eyes. Think of its habitat and its habits. Think of its place in mythology and literature. How can you incorporate this animal into a working piece of prose or poetry so that it becomes a metaphor?

Clarity

 

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Clarity

The words out loud
a reverberation
river-beaten voice
echo-soft, too
mouthful in mouth
heavy sighs, lost-light
breath braced in a lung
embraced breast
cries caught in a backbone
no callused fingers
a palm’s sweat-glazed creases
curls hunted, too hunted
all for nothing
all for all and all and all

You, you
who knows this hunger
who knows this need
lights a death-spark in me
an ice-burn
(memory in a dusty book
slipped-between-pages-safe)
a forgotten-me-not
imbues everything
colors the mirror
with redundancies
charges me “enemy”
indicts me
there are temptations of forgiveness
and they are a rot in the ventricle
too damaged to save

Today I talked about entrance and exit wounds.

Like how I am, and the many unfortunates—
like how we are more common
than the lecherous kings
with pristine smiles
who perpetrate and go on living.

This is a false flag operation
a failing infrastructure
dangerously falling temperatures—
all indignity
all shame
all harm
until we take our lives back

 

©2016 Clare L. Martin