Gail Martin’s first book is The Hourglass Heart (New Issues Press, 2003). Begin-Empty Handed (Perugia Press, 2013), her second book, won the 2013 Perugia Press Prize and the 2014 Housatonic Book Award in Poetry. Her third book, Disappearing Queen (Two Sylvias Press, 2021), won the Wilder Series Book Prize. Martin is a Michigan native with deep roots in both southern and northern Michigan. She works as a psychotherapist in private practice in Kalamazoo, where she lives with her husband, George.
My liturgy is easy: morning’s first bird,
warm rain, the peepers’ glee. The east sky
lighting up. But still, there will be a fork
in my day, some junction of blessing
and question. Call the hawk wheeling
over the plowed field abundance,
casting a shadow as he flies. This
is not a simple economy, where loss
is the only bird at the feeder. Consider
one world—white tulips in a crystal jar,
Japanese pearl divers, skirts flaring
in the light then becoming the light.
A girl who confesses the reason she loves
elephants is because they mourn their dead.
We used to have a minister who moved
his hands to contain or punctuate.
On the one hand … and on the other …
this scaffolding a formula to say almost
nothing. Yesterday, I found deer bones, gore
gone but some fur clutched to a joint
that looked gnawed off. It takes me a while,
studying its size, the limits of its hingey nature
to determine knee. And suddenly I miss
my brother who understands all these things,
as well as the helplessness of it, the torn
full skirt of it, the spilled cold milk of it.
When I found it, I couldn’t tell if it was animal
or human, shining there in the cold corner
on the wet floor, not pulsing, not steaming, no
electrical charge. Larger than two fists, a wet mop
head, a ham. Not an overweight plum or bunch
of grapes left too long, halo of fruit flies hovering.
I am telling you what it looked like, what it made
me think: cows, bovine. A bull’s spleen, a bull frog
crouching. That kind of weight. Or a kind of bomb,
the way childbirth is a bomb, the purple wetness, why
you’d never wear your own nightgown, why you’d rip
a nightgown off. It looked like Jesus’ heart, purpled
and taxed. I can see it stuck on top of my Christmas
tree. I can see it as a pair of wet socks swollen and balled.
Last winter I couldn’t touch my car without throwing off
sparks. I grew afraid to reach for the door handle, to adjust
my mirror. I wore rubber boots and gloves, tried to be sure
I was grounded. The day I found the heart I met a man
who told me he’d experienced the same thing. He felt
the same fear, the same shame. I was the first one he told.
My father was a surgeon and my mother was a sandhill crane. Or my mother delivered babies and my father was a starfish. There were two of them. My father fed my mother peanut butter and raisin bran every morning. Friday nights we’d play two truths and a lie over and over and I learned love’s habits. Grown men held golf umbrellas over us, sensible harbors from raindrops or bee swarm, fed me peppermints warm from their pockets. Sometimes it would storm paper and the trees would flatten and turn white. Two nights ago, the bark peeled from our last living birch tree. One of us has a scar on the throat that still itches. It may be a paper cut. The family engine never sputters, though my brother has never been happy. All his yachts are leakers. My own diamond shoes are too tight, and then there is my closed heart. The rattlesnake curled on the threshold? We toss him on the woodpile near the cedars to keep down mice, their rustle and scurry on the heap. Mother dreamed she heard them playing thimbles in the eaves. Even now, I monitor the calcium and gold levels in her blood, its sweet smell and gush. And this year, for the first time, I howl as the white flowers go into the dirt, their frowsy skirts spilling over the clay pot’s lip. The landscape is cramped here, no mountains stretch their faces to cloud, no water spills its trout off the world’s edge. House house house house. Tree tree tree, you can’t see much at all.