Martin Willitts Jr was the 2014 International Dylan Thomas Award. He has been nominated for multiple Pushcart and Best of the Net Awards. He has over 20 chapbooks, plus 11 full-length collections including “How to Be Silent” (FutureCycle Press, 2016), and “Dylan Thomas and the Writer’s Shed” (FutureCycle Press, 2017).
“my mother said I am going now/when you are alone you will be alight” —
W.S. Merwin, Rain Light
the dark has taken the stairs
where our feet used to be
eventually snuffed out
hungry for more where it is less
the stairs are clouded night stars
a spine in the nowhere
the gone is gone
and cannot be replaced
taken as empty plates no one fills
broken promises no one can keep
ask no one where the nowhere is
they can tell you more than anyone
when a light goes out the present ends
He had been gone too long, the landscape
no longer familiar, people he no longer
recalls, how the light came over the hills
is now diluted. Even the details in his pockets
are not radiant anymore. The immensity
of the loss, the blanks needing filling, the ghosts
like a school bell silenced in the absence.
Memory is not elastic. It cannot handle change.
There is heat in the iced pond. A terrain of dreams
is beyond a worn weather-beaten fence.
Landmarks begin to register. He can begin again
all over again; all he needs to do is blend in
like the red barns and silos and replaced skies,
until the bad days are buried in faraway lands.
Loss and recovery can be perennials,
a continuance of compression,
those idiosyncrasies from heart’s confessional
and the land’s. If I plant well, well, the lessons
I learned too late in life might not survive.
I drive a seedling into the mulch, like a gift
to an unforgiving God, like a body that died
might revive. O, the mistakes. The ground rifts
when I dig, when there are bones in my hands,
the hours shift. There are times when I’m denied,
then others when a plant breaks surface, all plans
are realized, the earth keeps spinning. I have cried
in the wilderness, and now I am going to recover
like a seed is found, like winter, like a new lover.
If There Is No Road, Make one
Now you walk to where the road bends
where it never did before. Some roads
just start that way — no beginning, no end.
You arrive to the same startled indecision
of a deer while peeling bark off a tree,
hearing a click in the frost-mist glen —
the hidden part of the world is revealed.
Sometimes there is no glimpse of the past.
Sometimes there are only bees in the wind.
You love the promises the world brings—
all those hours filled with nothing; the intense
insects; the sky bending at the knees.
You find yourself under the roof of silence.
It is the sound of rain beading on a birch leaf.
In the deep alcoves of the heart, you know this —
a river diminishing, living dangerously
on the promise you will live forever. The truth is
never practice inattention — notice these signs.
Some say they are breaths from prophets
searching for the next mouth
like invisible butterflies searching for milkweed.
There are some who never look down, never notice
the road, insist there is none. Be the one guided
and guiding. Be the one listening and worth hearing.
When It Becomes Quieter
It is not the geese in the clouds leaving;
it is us.
When I arrived at that place
where it ran out of houses,
a river bent where I could not see.
The silence was not a normal silence
you might find in an empty church,
instead, there was a rustle of silence
in front of a waterfall
just before a river rushes to leap over.
How to Make Decisions
We lean out from a porch
to test the rain and know
it cannot last — a part of you,
the melancholy and holy part,
wishes it could.
One day we cannot stand the rain
or snow or heat or crickets at night;
we want to be drenched in them.
The deal with leaning out is
we can always lean-back, reflect
as our faces reflect rain, snow,
darkness, all the crazy emotions
belonging to us, inhabiting
and testing our emotions.
Some days, the stars pull into us;
other days shadows leap from the floors.
Some days the rivers are in that far place;
other days we are storms uprooting
and silencing the eddies. Not one moment
are we steady.
We are as solid as smoke in rain.
Sometimes the result of adding or subtracting
does not reach a logical conclusion;
so when we lean into the rain
it is to be both connected and disconnected
to understand where we belong.