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Jynne Dilling Martin is obsessed with how things will end and who’ll be there beside her when they do. In a choose-your-own-adventure (or -spouse) poem titled “In Which Our Heroine Considers Her Alternatives,” after the heroine tries to invent a beast/soul-mate by drawing it, knitting it, and finally putting out a personal ad, all to no avail, she announces her decision to marry a worm, borrowing Jane Eyre’s famous flourish: “Reader, I married him.” Martin’s speakers may be mistresses of perception (whether it’s the pitch-perfect description of hallways as “rooms where no one lives” or the disinterested observation that “The interstate cars make wave after wave surge through the lab’s open door”), but understanding is what they most desire and what almost always escapes them. In her three-sentence “Case in Point” series, the conclusions are wonderfully disconnected from what precedes them, a kind of “if A and B then J” logic. It’s a gift to be deliriously funny and seriously scary all at once, because that combination can come dangerously close to the truth.
In Which Our Heroine Considers Her Alternatives
Draw any beast by starting with a circle! Then pencil in tusks
or distended bowels or a sweater vest with scratchy argyle
diamonds . . .
Naturally complications accrue with each additional triangle tooth,
each subsequent month of discarded girlfriends and gods and
years of scribbled decisions and enemy blood clumping on our fur.
Our beginnings never know our ends: every day I start knitting
and have yet to bind off a one. Umpteen distinguished civil
box after box of chalk to population patterns and projections,
and still I overheard the chief comptroller in the bathroom stall
“Are these ideas right or wrong?” as he pissed his morning coffee
So I subscribed to Understanding Your Worm. O simplest of
have you slammed the phone or weepingly packed an overnight
I confess that personal ad in the March issue was mine: ISO ascetic
who hearts long walks through leaves, who like me, spirals when
It stung, yes, to get no replies. Postage perhaps was out of reach.
But at last
out back I found love nibbling the pink guts of a squirrel. Such
as his nose pressed death! How did it end, you ask? Reader, I
In Which a Kindly Docent Guides Me Through This World
Without him I’d have never seen by the highway a deer
eating weeds, or narrow closets with rows of metal hangers,
how all day the tensed wires get sealed in the dark,
or learned not to stare at the sun or old men collapsing,
or how to grip with a potholder the roughest pineapple.
I like how he rests his hand on my head as we walk
through gymnasiums with their inflated rubber balls and
a strong sad smell he says is chalk, and hallways, which are
rooms where no one lives, and inhabited rooms where fabric pulls
shut to hide the sky. When I feel flushed from all this,
he takes a lettuce leaf from the cooler and presses
its firm green ribbing to my forehead, but still I waste away,
cataloguing the many things he wants me to call years:
our war, the Lord, a measurement, dragons. I do not understand.
The Ocean Rises to My Knees Then Stops
In Arizona desert heat, fifty golden telescopes click into focus.
Star, star, star!
Bob’s refractor drops into two feet of water. No one seems
“A good day for new directions!” yesterday’s horoscope said.
The interstate cars make wave after wave surge through the
lab’s open door.
My cat floats past on a raft, wet tail flicking. “Remain calm,”
Newspaper photos of men in glasses are submerged on the white
There is a mystery to be solved, I wish I could remember that
story I once read . . .
Purple jellyfish zigzag near my swaying pants. Tentacles curled
but poised to pounce.
An astronomer moistens a cloth, polishes his lens, polishes its
curved glass shore.
When I Think of What the Future Must Bring
There will be no vegetables with dimpled skin, no onions at all,
no lumpy tubers with bulbous names, turnip, yam, rutabaga, beet!
All food will come in shades of apricot, snow, and viridian green,
you will have a new satin robe and sable slippers with pearl beads,
armfuls of leaves, twenty white falcons who will pivot at your
a faucet that will gush on a whim the sparkling drink of your choice,
a rare glass paperweight collection, a cat who, like you, will never
Will old friends and lovers be waiting for you there? I do not
Would you really want that anyhow? Why not let this planet
and its people spin away. Choose to remember them faintly
and without affection, as characters from a supermarket
the footing but not the feeling of a dance you once performed,
a kaleidoscope pattern of beads that long since has shifted,
pairs of forgotten leather gloves rotting in lost-and-found bins.
Amuse yourself by conjuring storms on Saturn's thirty moons
then visiting each, one by one: ice-nipped, numb, nude, free.
On a Bus from Mall to Mall in Very Heavy Rain
One day with closed eyes you’ll play on a rosewood piano
in a dove gray kimono, satin rustling over the pedals.
In your pockets, nickels and quarters will be perfectly round,
arithmetic will come easy, as will breath and tennis and sleep.
At your door, a line of cats with combed white fur.
That day will be served on a domed glass platter.
The ice cream topping your frosted, rose-trimmed
yellow butter cake will change flavor with every lick,
the sky sliding by, a shade of silver only you can see.
Deer will gather at hedges to lap sea salt from your palm.
The thunderheads will split to reveal seven suns,
six burning just for you.
Case in Point: Cats
Our cat hates vacuums.
We laugh as he runs and hides.
Stupid cat. Scared to die.
Case in Point: Crows
The crows sat down.
“It’s finally time,” their President said.
Nothing ends as we expect.
Matthea Harvey is the author of Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of the Human Form, Sad Little Breathing Machine, and Modern Life.
Jynne Dilling Martin's poetry has been published in The Kenyon Review, New England Review, and Triquarterly.
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