Kimberly Martz



SALTATION

 

At five o’clock in the morning, a moan rises from the street
into my apartment and I can’t help it, I go out, search for a face
among the dumpsters.  In the distance, a dissonant music,
the dregs of some late party.  When I find him, silence 
hangs so heavily on him, I think he’s dead, but then a muffled Coffee? 
and a hand reaching out from the shadows,  

palm bared as though to say I exist in peace. He stays hidden in shadow,  
but when I ask why he’s lying behind a car in the street, 
his voice, rough as the long-unshaven lines of his face,  
pours out in starts and stops, an odd human music   
lifted from his Cuban aunt, Brazilian grandfather who died in silence   
in an alley in Santos, his mother who brewed coffee                                     

stronger than the men she kept about. When I hand him a cup of coffee, 
he cries, and I think how strange it is what people will tell in the shadow  
of a dumpster, wonder why anyone would lie down in the street.  
Maybe they cart me off, too.  His face  
twists as though he’s chewing on laughter, but I can’t make this music   
with him in the slow unraveling silence                                                             

of the dawn. Death usually makes for uncomfortable silences  
between friends, much less strangers.  Over coffee,   
I tell him how often I have loved shadow,    
and he tells of his travels through the streets    
of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago. The world’s dark face  
opens its great blind eye to a city pale with cold and little music                           

at this early hour, save for what spoons and old cans make. Music  
in my blood, he croons into the now bird-bedecked silence   
rimmed with our breath and the steam from the coffee.   
I know that I can step away from shadow      
at any moment, leave the narrow street     
so many walk alone, like him, this man whose face                                         

so close to mine smells of whiskey and sorrow. You got the face  
of an angel, he cries, so you must know music.   
I let him sing the strains of his blood, though voices call for silence   
now, too early still for anything more than the pop and hiss of coffee,  
the dance of bodies whose shadows     
gleam and bounce on the pocked surface of the street                                         

where we stand, face to face, thinking how to leave the streets  
and their shadows behind. What dull gifts – coffee   
and silence – we give to those who’d make of the world a jangling music.  

 

 

 

CHILD'S PLAY

Before the morning bell
and prayer, we waited for the nuns
to turn away their blue habits,
other children to carry their play
onto the blacktop, your mother
to wave her last goodbye.
Holding each other’s hands,
we gathered you in a circle,
demanded you show us the scar
on your chest where the nuns said
God scooped out your heart
and left a line like broken teeth
behind. You stood still as air,
and we danced around you until
you unbuttoned, bit by bit,
your meager shame, and raised
the dirty undershirt to uncover
the crooked smile stitched
into the skin. Then, from your hair,
someone snatched a leaf, spat
Ugly ugly thing, and other girls began
to sing it too. You were not ashamed
of your body’s absent breasts,
your milk-pale eyes that tracked
each word we flung like stones
against the thin suture of your silence.
And when one girl shouted
You’re horrible, began to cry,
you bowed your head, and still said nothing.

All day we whispered after you
in the halls, hid your gym shoes,
laughed when you slid and fell at recess
in your used Mary-Janes,
ignored the glares of the nuns
wept openly in fear of what
we did not know – how you, small
and bent, could twist your pain
into a grin, while ours grew bitter
and dark as bruises.

I don’t remember your name now,
or where you moved to later that year.
I don’t know if, at another school,
they made you bear what secrets
they were loathe to own.
I go back again and again
to that circle, try to break it
in my memory, pull you free
of all our lavish isolations,
watch horror deepen
in the faces of my girlfriends,
unlinking their hands until
a great gash opens between us.
I stand with you, and feel alone,
unafraid. I see what gray
and shriveled things words are,
poor bodies we cling to, and wish
away, like hearts we hate,
damaged and unwhole,
that keep beating.




 

MATERIAL

There is childhood. Training wheels
you weren't allowed to remove; an armful
of pears left to rot in a bucket; the rusted
edge of a paring knife hidden away when
it was seen too close to the blue of a vein. 
A soft hum in your ear, the tenacious
whirring of tires on asphalt — too,

a blurred portrait of father and son,
red-faced and mute, in the front yard
early one morning, hands crumpled
about the cuff of a shirt, fists white-
knuckled, as when they'd yank kittens
from the old well.  Too many, anyhow
If there were too many kittens, were there
too many children? And the shadow

that followed a brother's body down
the graveled length of that driveway —
there is still nothing at the end of it.
Nothing but the road, which everyone
travels.  The county resurfaces it, but
all the old potholes are marked,
the cracked-lip edge of the shoulder
expected.  Don’t put us down, they tell me.

As though a page could render them
permanent, could fix them in one moment
the way a camera restrains its subject — bodies
frozen, faces contorted around suggestion.
Traffic faint in the backdrop.





TRAVELING WEST

As soon as I left, I wanted to arrive. As soon as I arrived, I wanted to leave. 

 

I.

The constant lure of home is a stone

                       you might find
           anywhere, a shell

you pry from the sand              again and again. 

           Strata of memory –
                      white dashes,
                      a yellow stripe –

           keep us fixed
                      to the center of the road.

 

II.

I have no way of knowing
           if the pictures are true:
                      if, say,

           it’s shadow that bends their eyes
                      to sorrow, merely a matter
                      of taking them down
                      from the wall.

Don’t we all hang ourselves against
            the beveled edge of what history
                        we’ll admit to sharing?

It’s why I spent hours tucked inside
           the slats of a viewfinder, why
                      for years you were two figures,
                      slightly blurred.

 

III.

At each border we stop, photograph
welcome signs,
           press our palms to the air

                      as though we might cull from each state
its essence: steel-gray Mississippi twilight,
           distended blue belly of Texas, furrowed
           brow of the Pacific: each snap
           of the lens a piece of the map

           we follow.  We learn how the body, left
sitting too long, aches for what’s left behind, refuses
                        to give up its backward glance in the mirror,

                        certain there’s something missing.

 

IV. 

In the end the map
            is not the territory.  We drift
                        from turn-off
                      to turn-off, admit

we’re glad to be lost – shuffling 
           between the clear precision
                      of the odometer and the ragged pull
                      of the tide, each wave

a dissipating gesture.  Caught in the slow motion
           of arrivals, the proximity
                      of departure, we struggle inland
                      like the man in the kayak, who

despite the drift and pull of the tide,
           keeps making  for what he spies
                      in the distance, the line, the horizon
                      that marks where he begins.



 

 


SCAR

 

My father pulls the diamondback from the oak hull, stretches it
                      to full length and laughs.  The rattle
           is pudgy, flesh-toned, like my brother’s bruised arm.

When he drives the pitchfork through the angular head,
                       lifts the snake, suddenly, into the air, it’s
           a long slack ribbon, a gold muscular thread.  Still,

the lush tapestry of its skin comes off like so much
                       dross, as though this shedding, too, were part
           of its natural pattern – how it must have sifted

the oak’s husk, drawn light like a needle in its passing,
                      stitched a patch of air not unlike the dipping,
           swaying arc of my father’s knife, the slow carving

of flesh from casing, venom and blood staining his gloves. 
                      Strange, how the suture he tacks to the wall
            resembles the fresh scar hemming my brother’s jaw:

scalloped edge of diamonds glinting in and out with the gutter
                        of the television: the same rough seam ripped open
            again and again by his beveled fist.

 

Kimberly Martz received her B.A. in English from Auburn University, where she received an Academy of American Poets Prize. Currently, she is working on her M.F.A. at the University of Oregon. She has had poems published in Poet Lore, The Southern Poetry Review, and Urban Spaghetti.

Kimberly Martz was nominated for Poets Under 30 by Natasha Trethewey.

Poetry copyright 2004 by by Kimberly Martz.