Two Poems – Catherine Martin

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Letter From An Unborn Daughter

Letter from an unborn daughter, to the man in the Osaka airport who says to 
his friends, “The Good Lord didn’t give me any daughters, or else I’d have 
killed someone by now. Now, you, Tom, you have a beautiful daughter – me, 
I’d have shot someone by now for sure.”

Southern girls are so easy to guess, ain’t they?
Always daddy’s daughter, always sorority queen
Always rather stupid than fat, always better thin
than anything. We always carry the fried chicken
from the kitchen to this table, and we always clutch our purses
while we put on our lipstick, unless we ask you first,
honey, can you hold this a second?

It’s what makes us so indestructible: our eternity.
Yet, at the same time we’re so protectable!
We all got lace needs a shield from the wine,
we all got those aspirin between our knees
that keep rollin’ under the couch for no damn reason.
I can see your hand been stuck under that couch
for eighteen years lookin’ for a better reason
to cross the shotgun over our door
rather than sit down and have a conversation with me.

We know how you think we think.
We’re all like fish, or dogs
or anything that just needs something shiny
before you can put it in its place.
People love to talk about southern women
standing by a spitting frying pan,
but the only hot spit I know
is my own in my mouth
as I pull you back from the wrong brink
again, like I was raised.

Oh, how you won't raise me!
You see, that shiny I love to wear
maybe I learned from what you and momma bought me
and maybe I learned it from the sun
hardening the ground I walk on each day.

You’ve mistaken my eternal for unchanging
just like a real rich southern man.
While you were looking anywhere
but at me, I learned a few things.
Now, perhaps my arms can carry more steel
than yours ever could.
Now, perhaps my target is beyond your aim.




Grandmother Spine

in her lower back, my grandmother’s spine
changes its mind - curves right
and stays there an inch 
before turning back up and shooting
towards her head. you’d never know
by looking - you’d only meet her scoliosis
if you touched her back 
as she recited for you the names of the bones:
cervical, thoracic, lumbar - curve - sacrum.

my grandmother’s spine is the shape
of the cypress tree in her backyard, 
the one with a hump, a mottled decision
in its trunk where it can’t decide
where to go and forgets the direction 
of the sky, and then remembers, 
shooting suddenly toward its own head.
you’d never know by looking
that the tree curves because my grandfather
made it. he tied the knot into its belly
and told it to grow.

bald cypress trees control everything around them.
their knees reach far beyond their trunks,
grabbing at the toes of whatever walks through.
cypress knees look like tiny wooden people
who’d eat you if they could.
my grandfather wanted to eat everything he could,
stuffed dust into his mouth until it was all he spoke.
a man like that would only surround himself
with cypress trees because he wanted to pick a fight
just to see who would win.

bald cypress trees take at least 30 years to mature.
my grandparents were married 68 years.
that’s a long enough time for my grandfather
to trace my grandmother’s back
until he memorized
the yawn of the angle of her curve.
it’s enough mornings for him 
to look out at the cypress spreading their claim
on his land. it’s enough evenings for him to remember
it’s her land, too.
until he memorized
the yawn of the angle of her curve.
it’s enough mornings for him 
to look out at the cypress spreading their claim
on his land. it’s enough evenings for him to remember
it’s her land, too.

68 years is enough time for him to take a sapling
in his hands and give it her likeness,
plant it next to the window in their living room.
it’s enough time for him to do it early,
before he forgets her name, forgets that he can touch
her back, and all he can do is look out the window
and see her.
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About Catherine Martin

Catherine is currently floating around in Boston, keeping herself occupied somehow. She is a graduate of the Emerson College Publishing and Writing Master's program, and of Smith College. Her only hobby is poetry. Her work has previously appeared in Nimrod Magazine and the Superstition Review, among other publications. View all posts by Catherine Martin

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