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Hummingbird Press
Poets of the Monterey Bay

Three Poems by Joanna Martin

Primitive Divinity

Between the purple storms of philosophers cracking the sky
      wide open white with lightning philosophies,
at the outskirts of technologies’ campfires,
eluding the hum of science packaging up
      the shriek of the wild,
beyond thought,
sidestepping economics covering everything like acid rainfall,
within, yet outside, all borders,
evading all political systems,
at the center of the mandala of all religion,
nestled where east and west, axis and horizon,
      matter and spirit intersect and hang on the cross,

there, that same directionless woman squats on haunches
supporting her torso’s arch,
delicate, light-reflecting crescent,
part beast, part goddess,
scoops out from her blouse one aching breast
mute as a planet,
the pink nipple descends,
fills the black hole of humanity’s wailing lips,
suckles it.

Mathematics Lesson

That one morning I woke up early enough,
my father still in the kitchen
leaning over his coffee as if it were sacrament.
I stood barefoot on the hardwood floor, shivering.
What time it it? I asked from the doorway.
He walked to the window, Forty-two degrees, he said,
lingering at the ledge, looking out,
a few leafless branches gnarled
like witches’ fingers against the glass,
the shingled roofs of neighbors’ houses and beyond that,
the city, waiting every single day on the other side
of the bus line. Inside, the coffee still hot enough to steam,
he temporarily forgot my mother disapproved of it
for children and poured a cup for me. The room warmed up
a butter yellow, space that held us, two waking creatures,
within the palms of walls, night lifting up blue from the walk,
the sleeping rolling over into one last dream as my father
taught me yet another lesson, this time in mathematics,
the principles underlying numbers, how
thirteen years old and thirty-three could average out
over two cups of coffee, how the fifty-four bus
scheduled for six-ten could leave as late as six-fifteen,
how coffee could raise a room’s temperature
as much as five degrees (how he worried I was cold and
I worried he was late) how zero’s space would always
embrace us after his leaving.

Preparing the Body

There is that moment as you wash
her corpse, you have to talk
yourself out of the breath
you know she didn't take.
That moment as you look away
to rinse the wash rag, you feel
her eyes, opaque, take a last glance.
That moment you think she'll pull
her crooked arm back again towards her
where it should be,
always has been.
You fix her in a more natural way.
Wonder what natural is.
Comb her hair
like a doll,
imagine her family's thoughts
looking down at her,
lose yourself in that moment
wedged between person and corpse,
become disoriented.
No matter how many times you've done this
that moment of disorientation
rises and falls like light,
like shadows on the walls.
You're with someone,
you're not with someone,
you don't know if you're with someone.
Her body absorbs all sound,
a sponge,
the room a sanctuary of silence,
a sanctuary of what was:
other rooms,
other bodies.
The one whose soul lingered for a time,
watching you wash her husk.
The one whose skin remained rosy pink.
The one with translucent skin,
the receding blood sucking light in.
The gray one,
blue ones,
brittle ones.
The ones you never knew,
the ones you knew only in coma,
the ones you knew,
their lines repeat in your head.
This one was an immigrant, a seamstress.
A mother.

The potent plastic smell
of the obscently white body bag
wafts through the room
as you unwrap the seal with a scream.
The unzipped bag
gapes like a mouth along her length.
Her turned body flops
as she slaps back against plastic,
twice the weight this motionless state,
and the moment when you zip,
her body erased by the eating line
of black,
how you say goodbye then
to each part:
the leg, the thigh, the hip,
the waist, the breast, the neck,
until that moment at the chin
where you always forever pause
before the monumental task
of that, zipping a face in,
you perform as protocol
lined with all the secrets you hold
and suddenly you're making confession
or penance to the other being
this corpse has become
and the face glows at the top
of zipper, as if it knows,
with a hiss,
glows like a moon.
You zip in the moon,
zip in the night,
zip in the dark, yes.
Zip in death.

Copyright 2004