Poetry: Selections from Betsy Martin

Not From Sun

we whales swim toward the turquoise south
then glide back to the lapis north
often just the two of us
our home is each other
and the layers
from pellucid down to pitch
down where light-forms glow
not from sun
dark upon light or light upon dark
so ripely puzzling

Great, Sullen, Mauve

They fired God a while back,
and others moved in to fill the gap.
The most awe-inspiring
are the leviathans that swim with the wind.
Great, sullen, mauve,
they rush along in sky pods,
snapping limbs,
scattering hair.
They buffet your cheeks
with a rosy hope,
but when you look up too much,
lodge grit in your eyes.
I love them
for their integrity,
their purple grace.
On a smiley-face, blue-sky day,
the air is empty.

Bread Alone

The meat
is mostly crusts of fat.
The milk had its cream skimmed off
long ago, higher up,
and languishes in little cartons
on the counter, sour.
The saleswomen are bitter.
But the bread, the black bread,
is the land itself.
It tastes of coriander,
molasses, wheat, and rye,
caraway, ballet, War
and Peace, Pushkin, Glinka, Borodin.
The whole heavy loaf
is enough to live on.

Living On Layers

Seems it’s always snowing here,
not storms, but constant mist
of fine crystals drifting
By spring, the snow and ice
are easily two feet thick,
and who knows what all is down there—
rubies, poems, teacups with flowers,
battlefields of wounded or dead.
The driveways to behemoth apartment blocks
are shoveled by old widows in headscarves
with frayed overcoats the color of oatmeal,
bulky bodies bent
into captive sculptures.
At traffic circles, statues of Lenin preside.
Up and up, it deepens
because streets are never plowed—
people rumble over the layers
in their small, agile cars.
They’re used to living on layers,
dirt and grease graying
what began with pure beauty.

Betsy Martin’s chapbook, Whale’s Eye, was published by Presa Press in June 2019. Her poem "To Missoula" was nominated for the 2022 Pushcart Prize. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Atlanta Review, The Briar Cliff Review, California Quarterly, Cloudbank, Diverse Voices Quarterly (Best of the Net nomination), Green Hills Literary Lantern, Juked, Louisville Review, The MacGuffin, Midwest Quarterly, Pennsylvania English, The Round, Slab, THINK, Third Wednesday, Typehouse Literary Magazine, Wrath-Bearing Tree, and many others. Betsy worked for many years at Skinner House Books in Boston. She also has advanced degrees in Russian language and literature and has lived in Moscow.


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