“Spanning almost three decades of her work, this volume of selected poetry and prose reflects some of Lynn Martin’s best work. With wide-ranging topics such as motherhood, haircuts, working-class childhood, loss and grief, psychoanalysis, travel, mountains and – always – birds, the topics and unique language of these works will move and inspire readers of one of Vermont’s favorite poets. What
a delight!'”

Anne Alexander

Poems from Crossing the George Washington Bridge

AND SO THE PEEPERS HAVE COME

at first a tentative solitary voice
fading into silence,
as if aloneness
were a sin and punishable.
Soon
a chorus opens their throats to call,
as if drops of rain had panicked,
buried their heads in dirt until the steady drum
of cloudbursts cause them to bounce,
toss light between them in a wash
of voices hypnotic and sure.

Only the hyacinths are silent,
push agonizingly upward,
while children in the window stare,
astonished at grass and tree
springing upward, touched
by green, new with decision.

ON THE DAY MY FIRSTBORN ARRIVED

There were no balloons
only a wind that blew the ocean
into a pleated skirt of promise,
blue as your eyes; the sun
a saffron ball barely seen
through clouds in a hurry to arrive.

Driving through Pennsylvania Dutch country
farms rich with barns flashed by,
each protected by a hex sign meant
to keep demons from the door.
How would I protect you
with your dark, curly hair and unknown

Filipino grandparents preparing a boat
this early morning to put out to sea,
fish lines curled under their toes
as they had done forever, while your new,
white parents take you in their arms, feel

your six-month-old body relax?
Taking you home, we stare at the blurred
landscape, lulled by the rhythm of the car
the sound of our own hearts beating.

SILENCE IN THE SNOWY WOODS

A great swoop over my head, and a steady beat of wings. Suddenly a dark shape banks, turns and disappears into the pines. I had startled an owl into flight. It happened too quickly for me to do more than sense a shadow against the sky, as if the spirit of the pine trees had broken off a piece of darkness to carry even deeper into the woods. Owls do seem to open into mystery, and this one, in the silence it left behind, seemed to call.

I vaguely began to follow where I thought it had flown, knowing I’d probably not see it again. Owls are hard to spot by an amateur like me. This is the first one I’d seen in six months of living here. Yet I knew it lived close by, I heard its hoots from my bedroom window late at night. I walked deeper into the snowy woods, daylight having lingered long enough to leave some light, or was it only a snow-gathered glow? I stopped. Silence. Nothing moved. Nothing, except myself, seemed to breathe. Remarkable, since I knew the woods held sleeping birds, barely awakened rabbits, curled up moles, deer, turkeys, and grouse. Certainly, porcupines and raccoons. The sense of a complete world I couldn’t see filled the night air. The owl, I felt, was somewhere. Watching.

I do seem to wander in directions marked by vaguely perceived movement. Logic and goals are not my strong suit. I can’t explain any of my life in logic’s strict terms. Why do I go here? Why did I do that? There seems no reason other than because I did. Like Roethke:

“I wake to sleep and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn my going where I have to go.”

The little boy Welcome House Adoption Agency put into my arms so many years ago. What logic brought us together? A six-month-old, brown all over, as if just in from the beach, black silky hair framing a solemn face dominated by huge blue eyes. I can still hear Pearl Buck’s voice somewhere over my head saying, “Isn’t he beautiful? Is he Polynesian?” I could understand why she would say that. I am sure he was lifted from a canoe found floating down a river which emptied into the heart of Philadelphia, this Moses child who was now to be my son. My first-born son. Such miracles are not planned. My journey to this place was as subject to currents and wind as the path of this child. No, he wasn’t Polynesian. He was Filipino and born in Philadelphia. No matter. His hair smelled of salt splashed bark.

My next son arrived via my birth canal. Not content with canoes, he chartered a non-stop Queen Elizabeth, landing at my feet carrying chunks of seaweed and the light of a new moon in his face. Maybe he didn’t get here first, but his cry would ensure no second-hand attention. He was a presence not to be ignored. What was this assurance he carried in his tiny hands? Where could he have been before he decided to enter my life? Wherever it was he knew how to talk to trees, to wander comet-colliding skies without fear, to ask questions no mere mother could answer.

When the two boys were seven and eight, wherefore came the stray thought a daughter would be wonderful, a completion of a circle that existed somewhere inside myself. And so a warrior daughter arrived whose ancestors walked an African landscape, and whose brown eyes still held the glow. She screamed the walls into out-of-plumb shape in a small room in Hackensack, New Jersey where I met her for the first time. As I held her, she hiccupped small wet sobs into the nape of my neck. This softness in contrast to her former fury won me forever. Someone had to soothe her outrage. We had both found our way to the Jersey meadows, sharp grass notwithstanding, to a city neither of us had ever been in before and might never visit again.

I was deep into the woods now. Night had used up all the remaining light. If the owl was there,
I wouldn’t be able to see it even if it were right in front of me. I was growing older. My children were grown. What would the remaining part of my life hold? I turned and began to follow my own footprints out of the woods. What a wandering way I had come. Barely a straight line anywhere. In and out of trees, around clumps of tangled branches, a long trek over a mound of rocks. Could this really be the way I’d come?
I’d just have to keep going and find out.

CROSSING THE GEORGE WASHINGTON BRIDGE

I

New York is over there; it’s 1935.
I’m 3 months old; the bridge is four.

New York is not New Jersey.
True, a tenement is a tenement, a block a block.
New Jersey doesn’t have 5th Avenue,
the Bowery, theaters, and boroughs.
It has oceans, gardens, mountains;
none of which I know about.
Kearny is just outside of Newark,
and across from New York.
a Scottish town built around not wire but thread.
Looking out over the Jersey meadows,
New York floats in the mist,
like a Camelot that was or is about to be.

What does it mean to cross a bridge?

Now I’m seven, exiled by WW II
from one state to another.
Dad moves us to Rhode Island for the duration.
Four years later we are heading back,
the bridge still there, saved by my Dad
in my eleven-year-old opinion.
I was never quite sure what it was saved from,
but carried for the rest of my life
the sense of doom coming out of the blue
and marooning us
on the wrong side of the bridge.

12 people died while building the bridge.
More than half a million Americans
died in WWII.

A miracle my dad got to Africa and back.
A miracle we drove over the bridge
and back to New Jersey.
Back to Kearny, Congoleum Nairn, and soccer.

I’ve been an exile ever since, driving back and forth over bridges.
None of them as elegant
as the George Washington.
Most of them inventions of my mind.

II

I’m working in a factory, testing linoleum.
At 17, I have no idea of anything else.
A lunchtime visitor talks of college
in a nearby city.
How much I ask? And enroll.
The bridge from Kearny to Newark
barely noticeable
as the bus rolls over the Passaic River.
One woman’s chance remark
the unseen connection
as I do my homework between home and school.

III

What bridge do you cross to find yourself?

I stand on one side. Writers all live
on the Heights across the river.
Books fall from the hands of the gods,
certainly not from those who surround me:
factory workers, housecleaners.
I have to dismantle this bridge piece by piece.
Reconstruct it to my own architectural design.

Like Eliza on the ice floes,
It’s one bridge after another.
Always seeking the other side.
Always dreaming
of the George Washington Bridge
“The most beautiful bridge in the world”,
that spider web of wires from here to there.

 

THIS PLACE HOLDS A POET

White, white the walls wander
broken only by a closet and a hall
one glance off a wink of a bathroom window
barely holding onto a blue sky
escaped (a frightening experience)
from the tiles now wiped dry
don’t trip over the stool
carelessly abandoned atop the stairs
where any minute it may dash
down and out a hidden door
hush the kite tucked to the ceiling
commands from the height of disdain
this place holds a poet tight
otherwise, she would grow like the fern
trailing and despairing, turning with the light
toward the computer ticking away
compressing and expressing the unspoken
who knows where it will end
as plastic chairs
maintain the only grouping that makes sense
books line up
like fireflies one spark away
glare at a rabbit frozen on the floor
as she gathers herself to listen
through ceramic poised pink ears
surely in this living space
someone has something to say