Valerie Martinez

Issue #
September 6, 2013

from Count

Between you and me, small distance, this
       little sea of fuzzy green-gray leaves,
                 stachys lanata–drought tolerant, difficult
to kill–migrants from Turkey Armenia Iran,
       from there to here to Brazil,
                silky-lanate, stuff
of Girl Scout legend, and practical,
       when the toilet tissue runs out,
with local names like “Sheila MacQueen,” “Striped Phantom,”
       or the simple “Lamb’s Ear” that tips
                the conversation into the silence
of the year’s long coupled, this afternoon, in the high desert
       where a rim of brown creeps up
                the foothills, inch-by-inch,
behind which so much disappears.
       We are parched
                for any small wet sweetness.
It’s hard not to think discrete, continuous,
       north and south,
                Greenland’s mountain-top sea fossils,
the world overturned,
       when the image comes: a table, a tin cup,
                asking the reader
what coins you have,
       will you sit, drop them in,
                will the sounds go slow-like, expanding
in these, the days when single and slow
       might go the way
                of the Loggerhead Sea Turtle?
We know things are changing
       unlike the old changing,
                and it’s harder now to parse, winnow,
sift while swimming. The deep is nowhere
       and everywhere, together we drift
                or sink all day.

Let us go now, you and I,
       to the water
                where the girl stands,
where the ocean is the color of silky green-gray leaves.
       It’s cold, overcast, I can see
                the goose bumps on her legs.
She happens to wear white, she must be
       seven or eight.
                The girl goes to the water.
I see her during the day, at night, when looking sideways
       in that highway drive hypnotic state.
she reminds me of my nieces:
       the infants they were,
                the plastic tubs and soapy water,
the sounds they made, gurgling while they were bathed.
       The mountain pine beetle, silver-plated,
                cloud-lit, hangs from her necklace
like a scarab. The bark beetle multiplies
       at twice the normal rate, devouring
                drought-stricken trees,
browning the piñon which then burst
       wildly into flames,
                a cycle hard to call heavenly
(the dung beetle’s gathering rolling feeding)
       when smoke hovers above western cities,
                hides the mountains,
reveals them newly denuded
       as moonscape,
                snuff of dreams.

The girl in white,
       her small ankles,
                the garden hose all those years ago
running incessantly,
       twisting like a dead snake wild
                in puppy Ellie’s mouth,
water these dessicate hills could use now
       so much we didn’t know,
                slow-like, expanding,
Dokibatl and the Nisqually flood,
       the swells that build and crash
                before her, the girl,
as she backs
       and backs

Professor Harold Wanless
       speaks to us before a screen,
with images of his Antarctic research,
       a lecture entitled
                “The Frightening Reality of Sea Level Rise”
to an audience which includes the well-housed
       and heeled of Coral Gables,
                and reader,
we’ve stepped into the silence
       of black and white,
                he grays and ashes of some world
so cold and far away
       even Wenders’ dispassionate angels gush
                in comparison.
Outside the banyans drip
       their aerial branches like lions’ tails
                and the houses keep on shining on,
mango, avocado, tangerine—cheerful
       amnesiacs–and I balk at the spectre
                of the poem
doing its least best, wagging some hot politicized potato
       over the heads of the well-intentioned.

                I’ve come to the Sunshine State
for more than afternoons lying supine
       at Matheson-Hammock State Park,
                the lagoon near the bay, the bay near the sea,
the sea a continuous stretch
       from all places north and south, for poetry
                from the hands and mouths
of those who will be 70 in 2063. I will be gone gone–
       and in my wake?

Ixam far from home here where water hovers
       in all its forms, sits like an animal, behemoth,
                so large its consciousness pulses
through us like breath or breaths. I think
       I’m saying (if you’re still here)
                that I want to remember
Samoan Octopus, the primeval battle
       between Fire and Water, everything submerged
                i in a boundless sea–yet another tale
of the deluge wiping the slate clean. Inevitably?
       If not, we had better turn over
                a few promising options:
there is torpor and Van Hoff’s Rule, the gila monster
       hoarding fat and water in its tail,
                or we grow a pair of blowholes
so we can breathe it all in.

Walking is walking is walking, becomes something else
       with time and attention.
                Dominique struggled
at the end of day three (two years since breaking
       both ankles). Bobbe with her poles
                grew more and more deliberate.
My toes were numb under the heavy pack.
       Later I wrote: no water
                from San Ysidro to the city limits.
Less urban litter, more industrial waste–
       tires, paint cans, old posts stuck in concrete,
                cars crushed by earth and embedded
in the banks. Thirty-nine of fifty-four miles behind us,
       living four nights
                and five days on the endangered
Santa Fe I became unsure of my edges—
       hair, fingernails, skin–more like those stick figures
                in the petroglyph at La Bajada,
climbing upward toward that swirling sun,
       wormhole, moon.
                All was perforation.

At the Biscayne Bay National Park Welcome Center
       the dioramas display creatures so fantastical–
                Fingerprint Cyphoma, Rainbow Wrasse,
Bearded Fireworm—I am fearless for a moment,
       feel a thing open wide,
                hear Spider Woman and the clans
actually listen to Sotuknang—abandon
       their assault on ice and mountain,
walk away from the back door to the Fourth World.
       About a mile from the peak
                and much too high for Lamb’s Ear anymore,
a barking dog dissolves the spell:
       someone else on the trail.
                I watch Paul’s calves pulse
and pulse, the shapes of which
       still heat my thighs (good hurt, ache)
                llike Peru 2004, snow flurries
at the Panpacawana pass, 16,000 feet,
       the horses’ footing
                no better than ours,
the moment Paul dismounted
       and decided to walk instead.
                Watching his head, back, legs
from higher up, on horseback, knowing
       it was a singular moment
                never to be repeated,
the wrench of disappearance–ablation,

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