elegy is for the dead, what is for the never born?
In a strange cemetery, I wander among the lambs
and random carvings of tulips that never fade.
It is spring here, the grassy hill beyond the shade
alive with wildflowers and insects though on the coast
where it is winter, the small stream near
our house is frozen silence.
This is a place I did not expect to find
on this long walk. Yet I am not surprised
to see the woods have led me here to read
these names that are no kin and count the months
or days that they spent in
this world that could not have them.
Grief bought these stones to mark the dead
or maybe rage that stupid rock can outlast
our plans to connect the past of a family
to the years ahead. I want to rush
away from this spot and from the thoughts
that force me back into the summer where
not yet frozen the stream clatters against the noise
of my spade breaking roots. I wonder how deep
the hole must be. How dry the air!
My sweat evaporates before it stains my shirt.
The white container marked specimen
I fought the hospital a week to get
is empty. My right hand blisters. I reach
in my jeans to find the bulb that I drop
before the last spade of earth--a paperwhite
to mark my infant's passing out of me.
And here, at the edge of this open field,
I ask you what should I feel? Do the unborn
reveal as much as those whose hands were touched
at least once? I would like to know
that flower bloomed at least one time
to mark what I can't forget was mine.
© 1999 Judas Riley Martinez
Judas Riley Martinez received her M.A. in
English from Binghamton University and her Ph.D. in English
from Oklahoma State University. She is a past recipient of
the prestigious Wallace Stegner Award in Writing at Stanford
University. Currently, Martinez lives in St. Augustine, Florida,
with her two children, Ariel and Daedalus.
"This seemingly modest collection of
poems contains a remarkable heart and wisdom, both consummately
earned by living in the most literal of ways. Poetry is finally
the language of all we know and feel beyond the limits of
usual enclosure and habit—yet these too must find a
place. There is a tenacious, earth-rooted clarity here, an
insistent presence of daily person, yet one transformed always
by heart's response, mind's delight. This book is as big as
the world—to which it here gives back all it's taken."
"Whether riding a train towards tomorrow
or rowing a boat across a Styx-like dark infinity, two images
that frame this imaginatively engaging collection, Judas Martinez
writes of our compelling struggle against mortality, that
is, as the poet wisely recognizes, against ourselves. In a
landscape populated by the familiar and the strange, Martinez
realizes what limits us is what defines us, and yet that limit
suggests something beyond that the poems always strive for:
"The world affirms the way we live. / The world is not
earth, is something bigger." Here is a world we must
inhabit with the grace of these poems and yet resist with
the force of their transcending vision. Martinez always reminds
us of this endless and very mortal enterprise: "we are
traveling the way the dinosaur did / on the dark, flat, crust
of this world / towards its end."