Carolyn Martin – Four Poems
For God’s sake hold your tongue and let me love
the yellow sugar maple leaves landing
on the grass as autumn thunder claps
sun shooting through unknotted-holes
like lighthouse lamps that lost their wink
the feral sitting in the jasmine pot
watching stellar jays stalk gray squirrels
the emails you send on “How Not to Die”
mine on cutting down japonica
how you’re the music on the stand
the architect on my drawing board
the right to remain silent you ignore
when you instruct me to listen fast
how we’re immune to recriminate
how we’re diagnosed for happiness
A Novice’s Confession
Noonday prayer and you conjure up venial flaws:
eyes raised too high, coffee spills, a veil scorched
by an iron set too hot. You’ll save whispering
after Sacred Silence hits and over-dosing
on ice cream. You may need to pad your faults next week.
Your list eases through the grille toward the priest
who listens and cajoles. He jokes about ironing boards
and coffee pots, instructs you on accidents.
A penance worthy of your crimes?
Three Hail Marys and an hour’s walk outside.
You dash off prayers and grab your shawl.
You can’t foresee in two dozen years,
you’ll master fine-lined eyes, brows, and lips,
stroll your business suit into conferences,
command an audience with authority and grace.
Each night, you won’t shake off the habit
and the veil. You’ll wear them in your dreams.
Today you are nineteen – a lover of sunrise
chants, chores, studies, rosaries –
set on holiness, awake in black and white.
The tower clock strikes one and black wool shields
you from nipping winds. You raise your eyes
toward chartreuse leaves and smile at their unraveling.
My uncle never mentioned God
unless something needed to be damned ¬–
like the cops raiding Mayer’s bar
or chickens shitting on the roof
or old man Monek’s spittle on our porch.
Then he’d call on godly wrath
to raise the ante on his own
and spout off expletives worthy
of a handyman smashing his thumb
on cedar two-by-fours.
Friday nights he’d tramp a bat
to the Negro side of town,
puffing out his chest to hide
his homegrown ignorance.
Blood never rattled him.
Saturdays drank him to oblivion;
Sundays lugged him out of bed.
He threw his church clothes on
and blessed the priest who missed the coins
nicked from the offering plate.
A bone fide perfectionist,
he created his own trinity –
painter/builder/paper hanger –
adored by blue collar folks
who couldn’t pay for costly expertise.
No children of his own,
he crowned me princess of his heart,
my brothers princes of his home.
He loaned and fixed and ran to help.
He never let us down.
He cheated war out of his life
then lost it, piece by piece.
When his liver failed him in the end,
God didn’t have the heart
to give him a damn.
A mother never loses loss
Your words since the baby died.
Four years of hollow days.
You take his ashes everywhere.
His sisters travel-sticker every inch
of cherry wood so he will know –
they are convinced – where you’ve been.
Your husband cannot feel your tamped despair.
You grant him half-smiles and bury
screams in bedroom walls.
Two girls, one boy, you always claim.
When strangers – like the cashier
at the grocery store, the woman
on the plane, the couple moving in
next door – seem confused seeing
only two, you seize the opening:
Our boy died in our arms … in our bed.
Four years, you tell anyone who’ll hear.
Telling rarely soothes.
Author’s Statement on Beauty
When St. Augustine was asked to define Time, he responded, “If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks, I do not know.” That’s how I feel about Beauty. Any definition is just out of reach. However, I know Beauty by how it makes me feel: The delight in watching a yellow maple leaf hit the ground just as the thunder claps. The awe of standing across from hoodoos in Bryce Canyon. The camaraderie of grief, the joy of achievement.
In whatever form it arrives, Beauty is that which stops time, collapses or expands space, and takes my breath away. It provokes genuine emotional responses that let me know I am alive.
Sting, the lead singer for The Police, once defined his artistic mission like this: “All my life I have tried to find the truth and make it beautiful.”
I would say, “In this life I keep trying to feel Beauty and to shape it into truthful words.”
From English teacher to management trainer to retiree, Carolyn Martin has journeyed from New Jersey to Oregon to discover Douglas firs, months of rain, and perfect summers. Her poems and book reviews have appeared in publications throughout North America and the UK and her third collection, Thin Places, is slated for release by Aldrich Press in Fall 2017.