Martha King

Martha KingWORKING NOTES by Martha King

Of course poetry wasn't originally about love. Probably never anything so personal as "love" in the Pleistocene. No portraits. No individuation dramas. A handprint said a human was here. Notwithstanding, love poems seem a very old occupation to us now, though we return to them again and again: love for me, love for us, for my husband, and my daughters; my cousin is here, and a cat.

Surely poetry has always danced with music, sometimes cheek to cheek and sometimes so far across a dry continent only the reader who listens knows. Someone wrote, "no one listens to poetry"; the same person who then wrote such human music and from so far a distance, if I donít stop, Iíll write another poem. Thatís my process. The picture shows me editing.


Three Poems:

A Velasquez Mirror


Male Myths




On a table 4 fish, 2 eggs, a chili and 2 broken bulbs of garlic
It is a mirror, a painting
What does she see?
She sees she is excluded
I once looked as tearful and resentful; ears folded forward,
              sensual lips and firm cheeks;
              consigned to mashing garlic, my arm pierced by
              the scolding finger that urges attention to my station
They wait, beautiful and neglected, the 4 fish (slimy), the 2 eggs (cool)
There is black wine in the shadowy jug
                                                       Donít get mystical on me

What is in the background is a painting
           a reflection
There is sound there
2 women speak questions
A manís voice replies
These voices are painted
These dresses curl as brush strokes can, moving ridges of light,
             swift as letters
But the garlic masherís clothing is not like that
She, like me, wears the representation of reality
Her tears reek of garlic

Tending always to description
I perceive the objects in order
first fish, then eggs; first yolks, then albumin
one can glory in the detail of it
the glossy
the delectable
one can; I can;

I, tending always to descriptions
not how it got there
but what it is
I count now 4, 2, 1, 2, 2, 2
the circular story that confirms
how I am here also



for Pete

Espalier swollen with hard green pears.
The basement chamber jamming incredible objects my cousin restored.
We see small spots on ivory. Glimmer of chased silver. Folded wood. Thin animal skin.
The brilliance of melted minerals.

Family romance is a charm to ward off evil spirits.
Sees as a painted eye on the shipís prow or stares out of blue windows, as
the eyes of Isabella hovered over the dining room table.
The charm rouses riddance, aversion, is a mask of anger.
Entangles intruders who canít find the rules.
Protects through disaster.

This is a dead chamber of intricacy.
We are lured to marvel.
Outside...water ticks on stone.
The construct is an artifice raised to gild a familyís romance.
The edifice is real stone.

In the same spirit, we shall pretend the river marks the edge of safety.
A stained cliff holding back the black wall of wilderness beyond the river.
Literal palisade, provoking fear.

Stone ticks on or is it leaves?
The flat river continues to demonstrate capacity to absorb. Simply water.
Not endless.

One member of the wealthy family remembers being downstairs in his
nightclothes to steal a late-night look at their unicorn, the
thousand flowers, the stitched mystery of violent death, the magic

It was never a church.
And so we can examine all that happens here, like students in a
laboratory, sneaking a finger onto the old wood, breathing gently
against the painted clay, carrying rolls of images home
for the blessing of imagination.

A scene of savage looting. Our glory too.

In such artifacts are narratives. The miniature. The gigantic.
The found and collected.
The spanning.
Not endless exactly.
            But like rain.



male myth, unnumbered

wheeling a barrow of hot macadam
dumb as a drone, ox, or mule

all vibration is vibration
even the whistle only dogs hear

forever outside     with brothers


another male myth

he dances on vases
he promised a troubled sleep
we donít connect him
                        one    to    another
            lounging in silks
            with a pearl hat on
            poised on a fat horse
if the line here is short or absurdly complex

                      He is not soon in his great business


his myth

pitted old bronze-painted sword
                      a fake
Etruscan who shamed the servers

They took revenge
unhinged the arched chest
crossed his spread legs
and tipped his black-rimmed, staring battle-eyes

Hid away, the bloody meet
of hunter and prey
is lied about


male myth, persistence

clubs, scattered
a burden of hardwood

not what I


BIO: Martha Kingís most recent book, Seventeen Walking Sticks (Stop Press, 1997), is a cycle of poems in response to drawings by Basil King. Poems appear on pages facing the drawings. A new collection of her short prose, Little Tales of Family and War, will be published by Spuyten Duyvil Press in 2000. She edited the poetry newsletter Giants Play Well in the Drizzle from 1983 to 1993. King is currently director of publications for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.


new writing

table of contents