Poetry by Martin Willitts Jr.

During this plague year, Syracuse poet, Martin Willitts Jr, continues to catalyze poetry events


In the dark labyrinth, my mother insists
she is going for a walk with dad.
He’s been dead ten years, come this January.
She does not have a ball of string to unravel
and is already lost.

Bed-ridden, a feeding tube jammed down
her throat, gurgling like a spring well
going dry, a breathing tube forced in her nose
to startle the lungs into functioning, she’s not
going anywhere soon. The nurse says,
it’s to provide comfort, let her ease into transition.

On this side, mom turns pages in a new chapter in life.
We flip her over. She thrashes like a turtle. 
She remembers who we are, then forgets,
a variation of Catch-Up. She’s back in the 1940’s.
She hadn’t met dad, yet. She’s lucid, remembering.
Flash-points, in and out. She falls desperately in love.

She wants out of here. She rants. She can’t get up,
let alone walk, fused by wires and tubes.

I escort her wheelchair down the maze-corridors.
She thinks the wheelchair is a carriage in snow.
Faster, she exclaims, now we’re getting somewhere.




In order to get somewhere in a canoe,
you must rotate, paddling both sides,
but to coax a rowboat, you must
stroke both paddles together,
or you’ll spin endlessly in a circle.

In order to see dawn, you go before light
sneaks up — a mere whisper at a time,
making the birds start their engines.
You can’t see where night is attached
and landfall begins until a crescent of light
appears as subtle as water against a boat
moving it slowly like careful words.

Sometimes, sound is the water moccasin
slithering under lily pads or cattails rustling
in wind. Once in a while, sound plops,
and you can’t identify where it is,
where it went. Sometimes, water speaks.
You stop paddling, halt talking, hold breath
like it was a firefly in your hand,
while the boat coasts as silent as aging.

They never tell you this when you’re growing up —
all these motions you must muddle
and paddle through, and they never tell you,
life or a boat can come to a stand still
like a kingfisher anticipating fish
in perfect stillness. And they never tell you
the fish you see is somewhere else, or the fish
is a metaphor for all you are waiting to catch.
They certainly never tell you
we do not need anchors or reason or randomness
to choose where we want to be.

About the contributor

Martin Willitts Jr
Martin Willitts Jr has 25 chapbooks including the Turtle Island Quarterly Editor’s Choice Award, “The Wire Fence Holding Back the World” (Flowstone Press, 2017), plus 21 full-length collections including the Blue Light Award 2019, “The Temporary World”. His recent book is "Unfolding Towards Love" (Wipf and Stock, 2020).

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