Nuzzle Into the World by Martin Willitts Jr.

Nuzzle Into the World

Love has a secret. It cannot be mistaken
for anything else: nuzzling, feeding a horse
some carrots, fresh from the fields.

Grooming, stroking with a brush,
cooling off the horse, talking to it
in a slow, easing-down way.

Love cannot be rushed. It must build over time:
Buttercups littering the uncut fields,
a softness that cannot be fenced in.

Love stares back, eye to eye, never turning away.
There are questions endless as grass.
I wonder if the horse sees the world the same way—

if his world gentles—or if it strains,
tugging a plow—or gallops?
I wonder if the quiet moments enter him, too—

a quiet you can slowly peel
like an apple in one red spiral. A muzzle-in quiet
we all might enter.

I feed you this story like a carrot, feel your
shoulder against me. I brush your hair,
the world slowing to a gentle trot.

Lean into that quiet—soft endless grass,
hum of silence—lean into that.
Feel how quiet the quiet can be.

by Martin Willitts Jr.

Martin on Facebook

Editor’s Note: The imagery of this poem is quiet and contemplative and necessary.

An Ear-Full of Waxwing by Martin Willitts Jr.

An Ear-Full of Waxwing

—(An “ear-full” is the name for a collective of Waxwings)

Waxwings are not easily coaxed to a feeder.
I include cranberries,
sliced half-moons of grapes,
and pieces of apples.

Grandmother suggests
if I am quiet,
I can creep closer, see them nesting.

Her words challenge me to see which is quieter:
me, or the waxwings in flight,
or the sigh of a loose floorboard,
or a chicken feather coming loose.

I have seen them up close,
plump white bodies like a prototype baker,
a crest like a shark,
nesting in the edges
of woods where light hangs around
a long time past dark, near the fruit trees.

I almost don’t see them,
or recognize their high-pitched sseee call.

I almost stumble upon an ear-full of them:
yellow bellies, grey heads,
short, wide beaks, yellow tips on grey tails,
black masks around their eyes.

I can almost touch one,
maybe
hold one.

But I don’t.

I see a cup-shaped nest woven with silence,
using twigs, tugged-loose grasses,
cattail down, white blossoms,
string from a kite, black horsehair.
Their nest is about the size of my hands.

I could collect it,
bring it back to my grandmother,
a prize.

But I don’t.

The nest is perched,
teetering on a vine tangle.
It is about three inches deep, like a tea cup
on my grandmother’s shelf,
where she would stare into one cup,
seeing the future in tea leaves.

The nest is decorated on the outside
with fruiting grasses, oak and hickory catkins
like the floral pattern on the tea cup.

I want this nest,
its fancy designs,
to offer to grandmother,
knitting her silence into psalms and prayers.

But I don’t.

There is a clutch of six eggs
with black spots
like my summer freckles.
There is a silence within the silence.

I hold my breath,
gentle
as an egg.
The pale blue eggs match the cloudless skies.

There is a way to gently enter the world:

it takes patience to move so slowly
that you are unnoticed,
blending in.

You must exit
the same way, like slow grace at supper.

I take back my memory to grandmother,
tell her about what I had learned:
the meaning of stillness.

There are some lessons one must learn the hard way,
the plain-spoken way,
the unspoken way of flight,

the way one turns a page in life like it is a book.

by Martin Willitts Jr.

Martin on Facebook

Editor’s Note: The conversational imagery of this poem gently guides the reader into an understanding of life, growth, and silence.

All Night I Harvest Your Name by Martin Willitts Jr.

All Night I Harvest Your Name

All night, the wind teaches the branches
how to write your name,
and a thousand eyes witness their writing
with soft river-sounds.

All night, sand grains murmur your name,
shifting each vowel,
trying out each sound, their smoothness
like the plush-velvet skies
as the night begins its aria.

Yes, all night, there is the dissembling
of ideas because I’m searching for you.

Although the world is vast and faceless,
and occasionally meteors streak across
blazing your name,
I can’t find you.

All night, all night, crickets brim
excitedly, repeating your name—

your name of serious translations, a name
purpling into nightfall, a wing-full of a name
into an uncommon wind.

I ask the great horned owl,
and he admits he doesn’t know who you are.

When the wind rushes your name
against my window, I open the blinds,
and I can see fire and water mixing together.

If I ignore your name,
your name might turn into foam, pull back
into the ocean of many names,
because whatever is freely given
can be taken back. All night, I worry about this.
All night, I write your name feverously in my heart.

I write your name in the shadows between rose petals.
I write your name into the green world
almost broken by possible loss.

by Martin Willitts Jr.

Martin on Facebook

Editor’s Note: Repetition, imagery, personification… these elements elevate this ode from mere verse to a truly beautiful love poem.

Sonata by Martin Willitts Jr.

Sonata

Sun-rich, in a translucent stream, breeze-free,
a thrum-sound spills endlessly to a larger river,
passing white pines like a solemn prayer.

My father died quietly
like a dragonfly over the glass-like water,
or like lark-song in a red garden of intention.

Shaken, my prayer flew indirectly
like a paper kite butterfly.

Dawn likes to swoop in
when we are sad;
but even then, loss lodges
like a peach pit in our throat.

Mourning has terraces,
revelations of love and grief,
striking like lightning
with a quiet, after-calm.

Sometimes, the soul cartwheels after death.
Sometimes, the soul is wetness on grass.
Sometimes, the soul returns with its music
and nests inside the heart
with a constant stream of memory.

I like to believe my father taps on my window
when I hear ticking rain. Perhaps it’s his pulse.
Perhaps, his memory is a stone in the river.

And when my mother died quietly,
sending a murmuring of starlings
carrying her soul into everlasting waters,
I was convinced—

Love never ends;
it’s always beginning and reaffirming.

by Martin Willitts Jr.

Martin on Facebook

Editor’s Note: This poem’s rich metaphor and imagery revolves around the speaker’s contemplation of death and love, and all of the stuff in between these truths.

The Snow Storm by Martin Willitts Jr.

The Snow Storm

A blizzard locks down my small street.
There’s nothing to do to change the conditions—
shoveling is a lost cause.
Still, I work outside as silence falls.

A thousand hidden noises speak louder in snow:
the slosh as I push the snow aside;
the birds hovering in the thin hedge branches;
the way a flake lands on a child’s tongue.

The quiet arrives from a great distance,
from grey clouds. I do not pay attention
to what I am doing in the cold silence.
The quiet tells me, listen closer, listen deeply.

by Martin Willitts Jr.

Martin on Facebook

Editor’s Note: This poem circles around a central plea—listen to the silence.

A Day Mirrors Itself by Martin Willitts Jr.

A Day Mirrors Itself

1.

It is exactly one minute after midnight; a new day
crawls out the last day like a snail pulling darkness,
after leaving its shell. The town rolls up
sidewalks, the streetlights yawn, fighting sleep,
and the curious dandruff of snow filters the stilled,
patient air. Everyone fidgets with cabin fever.
At eleven, a teenager races to beat curfew.
I sit in a dark room, developing daily snapshots, rising
out of printer’s emulsion of memory. Snow cakewalks
in its finest attire. The music of silence falls on bare branches
like a waitress tips of a few pennies. The clock drags its feet.
Sleep eludes me. Silence teaches me about listening,
and I am a terrible student. Although it feels like an hour,
it is still the same minute of stillness and intention to detail.

2.

It is still the same minute of stillness and intention to detail,
and I am a terrible student. Although it feels like an hour,
sleep eludes me. Silence teaches me about listening,
like a waitress tips of a few pennies. The clock drags its feet
in its finest attire. The music of silence falls on bare branches
out of printer’s emulsion of memory. Snow cakewalks.
I sit in a dark room, developing daily snapshots, rising
at eleven. A teenager races to beat curfew.
Patient air. Everyone fidgets with cabin fever,
and the curious dandruff of snow filters the stilled
sidewalks. The streetlights yawn, fighting sleep,
after leaving its shell. The town rolls up,
crawls out the last day like a snail pulling darkness.
It is exactly one minute after midnight; a new day.

by Martin Willitts Jr.

Martin on Facebook

Editor’s Note: Beautiful imagery drives the repetition in this poem, offering the reader subtly different views of the speaker’s life.

Deer County by Martin Willitts Jr.

Deer County

I’ve seen the night beating like a frightened heart.
An apparition appears out of nowhere —

I should have gone slower at that time of night
when objects loom suddenly. A deer zig-zags.

We all should compensate for the unknown.
We never know what lurks in the dark.

Fear stokes more fear, jolting us,
a deer bolting out of the dark —

finding a tuff of brown hairs on a car
or lose a windshield or broken engine block.

On rain-slick roads, when deer lunge
like heart attacks. We pull over after a thud,

find nothing but a small dent we could beat out
with a ball peen hammer. Or, find a deer

pulled to the side like a marker, red glass splinters
from a broken break light like blood splatter.

In a blink, every moment can change direction
and night takes your heart in its hand.

The unknown lurks in either light or dark.
We never see the inevitable coming.

If we could, we’d swerve,
sigh many heart-jerks, many tear-jerks.

Sometimes, we’d survive the deer combat zone.
Sometimes, we make it home in time, undented.

by Martin Willitts Jr.

Martin on Facebook

Editor’s Note: The stark two line stanzas in this poem emphasize the sudden jolt of an unexpected trauma, creating an undeniable allegory for life. Also, the first line is truly remarkable.

Shore of Tago Bay, Ejiri at Tōkaidō by Martin Willitts Jr.

Shore of Tago Bay, Ejiri at Tōkaidō
Katsushika Hokusai, Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, picture # 18

Men have cast their fishing nets from the prow. All day, they pull up nets of emptiness, over and over and over. All this hard work in harsh light, and all they catch is sunburn. They will return home at the end of the day, once again, with nothing to show for their efforts. It is not easy catching the nothingness.

On the shore, workers are tiny and insignificant, raking the flats for salt. Some have already gathered the salt, and now they are carrying their bags to the kilns. Inside the kilns, water boils to keep the salt. These workers will have much to show for their efforts. It is not easy boiling down a day into a single moment.

None of them care that they are close to the Tōkaidō highway. That road could take them far from all of this salt and lack of fish and pull of oars. The road is always there, yet these people always stay performing the same tasks as their ancestors. Small details persisted. The more they struggled, the more they failed, like sunlight, like heartbeats, like salt trying to avoid crystalizing in a kiln, like birds circling uncertain where to land, if to land. It is not easy to be so near a road that can take us elsewhere, and stay doing the same meaningless task.

Mount Fuji is always in the background, always with snow on its peak, always below the setting sun. The sense of Always is the only constant we have in this world. Even that is temporary, dissolving like water in the kiln. It is not easy being temporary.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Sun is in a net,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .taken to the kiln to bake,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .turns to salt in heat.

by Martin Willitts Jr.

Martin on Facebook

Editor’s Note: This ekphrastic poem (prose and haiku) tells a straightforward story, or so it seems, but the persistent energy of the images resonates with the woodblock print, creating more layers of meaning than is immediately obvious.

Image by Katsushika Hokusai

The Sounds Water Makes by Martin Willitts Jr.

The Sounds Water Makes

Grandmother hated the rusty click-clack whoosh
metallic sound of the kitchen hand pump,
preferring I’d go out: Fetch a wooden bucket
of water from the well.

I’d creak-creak the pulley rope
until I’d feel the bucket slap-bottom-touch the water,
go slower, sensing it sink-fill, then
tug-yanked up into sunlight, a slushing bucket,
fetched it back.

Water tasted different when from a bucket
or the hand-pump or metal ladle at the well.
I never understood how the texture and flavor changed.

All I knew was grandma hated the fancy hand pump,
choosing the old Amish, sensible ways,
without gadgets and gizmos. She desired a world
waking up to hardness of life, as loose
as water. But the rest of the world was moving
in a blur she’d never understand, leaving her behind,
set in her ways, her bones too old and stubborn
for there to be any other way than plain-spoke,
careful with words, listening before speaking,

She wanted a time when water was water,
and sky clung fiercely to the land.
She declared, “You can keep your ways.”

I was too afraid to ask her what she was going to do
with all that water. I went softly back outside,
floors screech-scratching behind me

like a rope being lowered into the deepest well.

by Martin Willitts Jr.

Martin on Facebook

Editor’s Note: The plain-spoken tone of the narrator mirrors the subject—a grandmother married to ways that feel simple, but are often anything but.

April 17 by Martin Willitts Jr.

April 17

It’s April. It’s snowing —again.
And, again, flowers close.

Snow is a cruel joke.

The world is speechless,
disappointed —
all this unfulfilled desire!
It is April, after all.
It’s not supposed to be like this —

white, cold shock,
purpose driven away —

this peculiar weather,
this unevenness,
this lack of rapture.

It’s our turn,
insist the purple crocuses.

Snow returns, anyway,
any way it can.

Death can happen at any time.

We can only sing our way forward.
The journey is long,
and the length varies
depending on each of us,

and when we get to the end,
tired, forlorn,
we will brighten up,
at last, and open
like spring flowers.

by Martin Willitts Jr.

Martin on Facebook

Editor’s Note: Anyone who lives in the USA (particularly in the east) will understand that this poem is a vivid and immediate response to this year’s exceedingly frustrating and late spring season.