Judas Riley Martinez

If an 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

Author Biography

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.

Critical Response

"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."

—Robert Creeley

"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."

—Richard Jackson

©2009 Longleaf Press at Methodist University | Fayetteville, NC