Bio Note: Blissfully retired in Clackamas, Oregon, I am a lover of gardening and snorkeling, feral cats and backyard birds, writing and photography. I currently serve as the poetry editor of Kosmos Quarterly: journal for global transformation and would love the Verse Virtual community of poets to check our calls for submissions.
You do not have to be good.
—Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese”
Ain’t that a kick in the head! After all the bunk about straights and narrows, wrongs and rights, confessionals where venial sins are laughable, it’s come down to this: we’ve been duped. Friday fish, forty fasting days, crownings in the Mary month of May; rosaries, callused knees, indulgences that smudge our sins: they don’t add up to good. Neither do tidy rooms, top grades in school, nor mandatory modesty. So let’s delete the snake behind the apple tree and every bite of stale theology. Let’s resurrect original wildness and ramble through valleys scratched and scarred, down unquiet streams, across raging fields of blooms disguised as weeds. Let’s celebrate every fleshy flaw, each mistaken thought that turns out true. Let’s race wild geese to the nearest star, cheering on imperfect nakedness with disheveled glee.
Originally published in Gyroscope Review.
Step by Step
I do not ask to see the distant scene—
one step enough for me.
—John Henry Newman, “Lead, Kindly Light”
If it were only the black leather gloves molding in a pile of leaves or the cell phone on a freezer shelf, I could cope. Even unsent birthday cards filed away with tax receipts are bearable. More alarming now, I cannot predict when I’ll forget how to turn the oven on or write a check or why the front door key won’t fit. There are the bills I thought I paid. RSVPs never sent. The names of friends I’ve known for years? They’re on a shelf somewhere. I need to write things down. The keys are in the kitchen drawer with contacts for emergencies. My will is in the firebox. I prefer white roses over pink. My favorite hymn’s a prayer for Light. Distant scenes fade. One step through darkness will suffice.
Originally published in Carolyn Martin, Thin Places (CA: Kelsay Books, 2017)
Day One as a Volunteer in a Memory Care Center
We were meant to lose people. How else would
we know how important they are?
—The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
They’ve come to die, I’m told. That’s why this place is flush with plants, exotic fish, and photographs of lives—once deeply lived— hung outside each bedroom door. Anything, it seems, to counterpoint the end. I roam the disinfected halls, curious. First door right, a six-foot bombardier poses arrow-straight, metaled up for bravery. Now he’s shrunk to half his size and aims his piss at every rug in sight. He relieves himself, I’m told, with crisp salutes and sheepish grins. On the left, sullen black/brown eyes above a red print dress and shoes that seem too tight. Frozen in a rocking chair, she’s been freed— I’ll come to understand—from memories of family dead and bloodied feet and miles of killing fields beneath a killing sky. Here the smiling Ph.D. beneath a pink straw hat, hugging natives in Peru. She’ll sing her Ay, ay, ay, ay for me and follow with the chant, I’m five and on the river mother died. For months we’ll wind along her private Amazon. Forty-eight, I’m told: residents to-date. Four dozen lives bedded down or nodding off in wheelchairs circled for the morning news. They’ve come to die, I’m told, and I – someone they never knew—vow to learn each life and scour facts for truth. I’ll watch them disappear—the smiles, half-smiles, frowns; the final sparks before the fading stares. Then I’ll volunteer to take the photos down.
Originally published in Razor Literary Magazine.
©2020 Carolyn Martin
Editor's Note: If this poem(s) moves you please consider writing to the author (email address above) to tell her or him. You might say what it is about the poem that moves you. Writing to the author is what builds the community at Verse Virtual. It is very important. -JL