Martha - Audre Lorde

Martha this is a catalog of days
passing before you looked again.
Someday you will browse and order them
at will, or in your necessities.

I have taken a house at the Jersey shore
this summer. It is not my house.
Today the lightning bugs came.

On the first day you were dead.
With each breath the skin of your face moved
falling in like crumpled muslin.
We scraped together the smashed image of flesh
preparing a memory. No words.
No words.

On the eighth day
you startled the doctors
speaking from your deathplace
to reassure us that you were trying.

Martha these are replacement days
should you ever need them
given for those you once demanded and never found.
May this trip be rewarding;
no one can fault you again Martha
for answering necessity too well
and the gods who honor hard work
will keep this second coming
free from that lack of choice
which hindered your first journey
to this Tarot house.

They said
no hope no dreaming
accept this case of flesh as evidence
of life without fire
and wrapped you in an electric blanket
kept ten degrees below life.
Fetal hands curled inward on the icy sheets
your bed was so cold
the bruises could not appear.

On the second day I knew you were alive
because the grey flesh of your face

I love you and cannot feel you less than Martha
I love you and cannot split this shaved head
from Martha's pushy straightness
In a smash of mixed symbols
How long must I wander here
In this final house of my father?

On the Solstice I was in Providence.
You know this town because you visited friends here.
It rained in Providence on the Solstice—
I remember we passed through here twice
on route Six through Providence to the Cape
where we spent our second summer
trying for peace or equity, even.
It always seemed to be raining
by the time we got to Providence
and Blossom and Barry
and Frances. And Frances.
Martha I am in love again.
Listen, Frances, I said on the Solstice
our summer has started.
Today we are witches and with enough energy
to move mountains back.
Think of Martha

Back in my hideous city
I saw you today. Your hair has grown
and your armpits are scented
by some careful attendant.

Your Testing testing testing
explosive syllables warning me
Of The mountain has fallen into dung
no Martha remember remember Martha—
Dead flowers will not come to your bed again.
The sun has started south
our season is over.

Today you opened your eyes, giving
a blue-filmed history to your mangled words.
They help me understand
how you are teaching yourself to learn

I need you need me
le suis Martha I do not speak french kissing
oh Wow, Black and Black . . . Black and . . . beautiful? 
Black and becoming
somebody else maybe Erica maybe who sat
in the fourth row behind us in high school
but I never took French with you Martha
and who is this Madame Erudite
who is not me?

I find you today in a womb full of patients
blue-robed in various convalescences.
Your eyes are closed you are propped
Into a wheelchair, cornered,
in a parody of resting.
The bright glue of tragedy plasters all eyes
to a television set in the opposite corner
where a man is dying
step by step
in the american ritual going.
Someone has covered you
for this first public appearance
in a hospital gown, a badge of your next step.
Evocative voices flow from the set and the horror is thick
in this room full of broken and mending receptions.

But no one has told you what it's all about Martha
someone has shot Robert Kennedy
we are drifting closer to what you predicted
and your darkness is indeed speaking
Robert Kennedy is dying Martha
but not you not you not you
he has a bullet in his brain Martha
surgery was never considered for you
since there was no place to start
and no one intended to run you down on a highway
being driven home at 7.30 on a low summer evening
I gave a reading in Harlem that night
and who shall we try for this shaven head now
in the courts of heart Martha
where his murder is televised over and over
with residuals
they have caught the man who shot Robert Kennedy
who was another one of difficult journeys—
he has a bullet in his brain Martha
and much less of a chance than you.

On the first day of July you warned me again
the threads are broken
you darkened into explosive angers and
refused to open your eyes, humming interference
your thoughts are not over Martha
they are you and their task is
to remember Martha
we can help with the other
the mechanics of blood and bone
and you cut through the pain of my words
to warn me again
testing testing whoever passes
must tear out their hearing aids
for the duration
I hear you explaining Neal
my husband whoever must give me a present
he has to give me
himself where I can find him for
where can he look at himself
in the mirror I am making
or over my bed where the window
is locked into battle with a wall?

Now I sit in New Jersey with lightning bugs and
typing and thinking of you.
Tonight you started seizures
which they say is a temporary relapse
but this lake is far away Martha
and I sit unquiet in New Jersey
and think of you.
I Ching the Book of Changes
says I am impertinent to ask of you obliquely
but I have no direct question
only need.
When I cast an oracle today
It spoke of the Abyssmal again
which of all the Hexagrams
is very difficult but very promising
in it water finds its own level, flowing
out from the lowest point.
And I cast another also that cautioned
the superior man to seek his strength
only in it's own season.
Martha what did we learn from our brief season
when the summer grackles rang in my walls?
one and one is too late now
you journey through darkness alone
leafless I sit far from my present house
and the grackles' voices are dying
we shall love each other here if ever at all.

Yes foolish prejudice lies
I hear you Martha
that you would never harm my children
but you have forgotten their names
and that you are Elizabeth's godmother.
And you offer me coral rings, watches
even your body
if I will help you sneak home.

No Martha my blood is not muddy my hands
are not dirty to touch
Martha I do not know your night nurse's name
even though she is black
yes I did in Brighton Beach once
which is almost Rockaway
one bitter winter
but not with your night nurse Martha
and yes I agree this is one hell
of a summer.

No you cannot walk yet Martha
and no the medicines you are given
to quiet your horrors
have not affected your brain
yes it is very hard to think but
it is getting easier and yes Martha
we have loved each other and yes I hope
we still can
no Martha I do not know if we shall ever
sleep in each other's arms again.

It is the middle of August and you are alive
to discomfort. You have been moved
into a utility room across the hall
from the critical ward because your screaming
disturbs the other patients
your bedside table has been moved also
which means you will be there for a while
a favorite now with the floor nurses
who put up a sign on the utility room door

A golden attendant named Sukie
bathes you as you proposition her
she is very pretty and very gentle.
The frontal lobe of the brain governs inhibitions
and damage is after all slight
and they say the screaming will pass.

Your daughter Dorrie promises you
will be as good as new, Mama
who only wants to be Bad as the old.

I want some truth good hard truth 
a sign of youth
we were all young once we had 
a good thing going
now I'm making a plan
for a dead rabbit a rare rabbit.
I am dying goddammit dying am I 
Death is a word you can say now
pain is mortal
I am dying dying for god's sake won't someone please
get me a doctor PLEASE
your screams beat against our faces as you yell
begging relief from the blank cruelty
of a thousand nurses.
A moment of silence breaks
as you accumulate fresh sorrows
then through your pain-fired face
you slip me a wink

Martha Winked.

Your face straightens into impatience
with the loads of shit you are handed
'You're doing just fine Martha what time is it Martha'
'What did you have for supper tonight Martha'
testing testing whoever passes for Martha
you weary of it.

All the people you must straighten out
pass your bedside in the utility room
bringing you cookies
and hoping
you will be kinder than they were.

Go away Mama and Bubie
for 30 years you made me believe 
I was shit you shat out for the asking
but I'm not and you'd better believe it
right now would you kindly 
stop rubbing my legs
Next week the Bubie brings Teglach
your old favourite
and will you be kinder Martha
than we were to the shell the cocoon
out of which the you is emerging?

No one you were can come so close
to death without dying
into another Martha.
I await you
as we all await her
fearing her honesty
we may neither love nor dismiss
Martha with the dross burned away
condemnation from the essential.

You cannot get closer to death than this Martha
the nearest you've come to living yourself

Lorde, A. (2000) The collected poems of Audre Lorde. New York: Norton, p37 - p44]


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