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.

Waiting for You by Martin Willitts Jr.

Waiting for You
(American Sonnet)

Just like a good steady rain,
handwritten by the blue jay’s flight,
the edges of the world need you.
I am aware of the heartbreak
behind the rain’s curtain.
The river banks swell, the ground
is saturated, run-offs follow
a downward slope like arpeggios.

The clouds are squeezed tight.
Rain crunches on roofs, abundantly;
but like love or pain, it cannot last forever.
There is no sound inside the rain
that is not you. A heart is breakable,
but the door is unlatched, waiting for you.

by Martin Willitts Jr.

Martin on Facebook

Editor’s Note: This poet’s exploration of the limits of the sonnet form continue in this poem. Emotional imagery is highlighted within the form’s fourteen short lines and octave/sestet relationship.

Sonnet: Songbirds by Martin Willitts Jr.

Sonnet: Songbirds

Never had so many songbirds been so silent.
Not one was spreading noise, curving over the pines.
A congregation had gathered, and not one bird
erected a thin mist of music. Not one note
rustled its wings. It was eerie. Curse?
Silent worship? What caused this hush?
There were so many birds in the sky
like rainclouds, darkening, enigmatic, quiet —

a strangeness of birds, and their ambiguity
purposeful, their luxuriant colors, their frequency
of moment — why were they composed
this way? This wall of fragments and silence,
not even one wing beat? Are they insulting us?
Is there some bad news that they are encapsulating?

by Martin Willitts Jr.

Martin on Facebook

Editor’s Note: This poem’s eerie questions seem strangely apt today, in the midst of Hurricane Harvey’s ongoing lashing of the Texan coast.

Sonnet: Uncertainty by Martin Willitts Jr.

Sonnet: Uncertainty

Think of rain. Think of it bringing a message. Think
of the rain singing, and how its melody is getting closer.
Notice how the rain is smiling. It is thinking.
Think of the rain as a guest. Treat it kindly.
Think of rain catching in a deer’s antlers. Think of rain
being as large as forgiveness, but also as less
than a gram. Think of small, wounded words.
Think how rain can start with tiny baby-steps.

A person receiving a transfusion, lays near roses
someone delivered, and now the patient is too tired
to notice their bloom, fading. It’s a kind of courage
to watch a calendar change while minutes
become less abundant, more uncertain.
Rain concludes on the windows.

by Martin Willitts Jr.

Martin on Facebook

Editor’s Note: Once again this poet’s sonnet series presents a lack of meter and rhyme that nevertheless supports the meaning of the title. Careful imagery and enjambment show that even free verse can be formalized into an emphatic emotional metaphor.

Nelly by Robert Ford

Nelly

We buried you on the hottest day for years.
No breeze. The cornstalks were silent,
the air seething in crowded spaces under
a sky wiped duck-egg blue at the edges.

Through the heavy substance of veteran oaks,
sycamores, gasping over the hedgerows,
you could see all the way down the lazy apron
of the river valley to our town, the thumb of

its church steeple gilt-framed by the haze.
It seemed apt. A decade later, it’s still how
I picture you – though I’m no more than an
unopened parcel of memories in your future

—a girl, each thin-ice step you take a question,
leaving behind farm, family, village, home.
A whole lifetime waiting for you down there,
waiting to gather you up into its embrace.

by Robert Ford

Editor’s Note: Grief often defies description, but poets keep trying. This poem’s intense imagery presents yet another facet of sorrow, embedded in present, past, and future.

Sonnet: Disquieting by Martin Willitts Jr.

Sonnet: Disquieting

This present moment — is gone, gone
like sparrows into the disquieting sky. Gone
white as sycamore branches before memory
releases their leaves. Gone as flattering light.
Gone as bliss and recognition of bliss. Gone,
taken away, the way rivers take silt,
depositing elsewhere. Moments are dissonant
and gorgeous, then — gone.

The pristine rains never last. It cannot rain
metaphorically everywhere with consistency.
Gravity cannot hold wind, even if wind
kisses our faces, even if it sheds sycamore leaves,
even if light folded, even if sound was shaken,
even if we clutched every moment to our chests.

by Martin Willitts Jr.

Martin on Facebook

Editor’s Note: This poem’s lack of meter and rhyme contradict its title while also emphasizing the meaning of it. This poem is an uneasy testament to the power of words used to describe difficulty.

Variations of Stories I heard in Vietnam from the Wounded by Martin Willitts Jr.

Variations of Stories I heard in Vietnam from the Wounded

They would be firing non-stop, it felt like for days,
and the enemy would come endless as rain or breath,
and there’d be this moment, not certain when,
the body and mind separated.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .The body would be
clenching the trigger, fingers numb, or throbbing,
or frozen, or attached, firing, eyes no longer seeing,
but seeing too clearly what was happening, accelerated
or slowed-down, and heart firing like endless bullets,

and alongside, a temporal spirit, perhaps the soul,
outside and transparent, disgusted, refusing to act, or
rescue, or advise, or return to the body again,

and now, the body was being operated on, and
sometimes, the spirit was nearby watching detached
at the incisions, and sometimes, the spirit
had already walked away.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .But when the body awoke,
it would search for the other missing half, the
human part that knew caring. But, the two
could not merge any more than light can join shadow,
or night with day, always longing for what could have,
what will never will be again, and needing
a different kind of healing.

by Martin Willitts Jr.

Martin on Facebook

Editor’s Note: This poem uses repetition to convey the intractable trauma of war.

Bone-Chilled by Martin Willitts Jr.

Bone-Chilled

These mountains were not high enough to have snowcaps
but a toddler tugged on his mother’s sleeve
as a silent plea for safety. The pond was frozen over,
although spring was coming out of its cabin,
carrying a berry-picking tin pail. The boy shivered
in his parka, back-glancing at the junipers
where the all-day bird was singing, knowing weather
was purposely fickle. His mother had pushed off
the latest attempt by another no-account guy
who had stared once too intently at his eight
year old sister. Bone-chills emanated from that man,
like a kind of mean wind blasting them in the face.
He went with his mother, searching with a group
for his sister who had run off into this direction,
into the folds of the mountains. The boy called out
in his small voice, loudly for the lost,
already dreading what he knew must be true and too late.
His mother, biting at her cold sore, seemed serene
at this same awful conclusion, holding one boot
belonging to his sister, strangely smaller,
like hope, like one blue flower in the snow-melt.

by Martin Willitts Jr.

Martin on Facebook

Editor’s Note: The narrative of this poem moves inexorably forward, as cold, spare imagery fills out the emotional devastation of the narrator, a child too young/old for lies.

Wind by Martin Willitts Jr.

Wind

A blustery darkening day snarls around my house,
half-awakening the blinds, millions of autumn leaves
snapping against windows. A temperature drops off
at my doorstep, an unwanted baggage.
The wind moans like a pregnant woman.

I would not be astonished if tomorrow blew by.

*

She holds her pregnant belly, afraid she’s hatching the moon.
Her breasts are swollen with milk, purple nipples aching,
feeling pinched. I offer to relieve her pain,
and she throws a look like a knife thrower, watch it buddy,
whooshing air. I slink away like the leaves outside,
hoping for a place to hide until the storm blows over.

As her time nears, she thunders a scream, rattling windows,
bones; the neighbors think it’s bloody murder. Crows
screech and fly panicked into each other, creating darkness.

She wants to strangle the doctor who suggests,
that wasn’t so bad now, after all, was it?
Luckily for him, I’d suggested strapping her down first.

She tries to disassemble both of us with a nasty glare.

*

The wind’s teeth bite at any exposed skin.
An old woman scolds her runaway scarf.
It might be found later, draped around a tree, keeping it warm.

But in the meantime, the scarf bolts, and bolts away
whenever she gets within reach. It’s some kind of keep-away.
She curses the wind like a woman pushing out a baby.

She nips at the wind, gnashing it. Her cussing darkens skies,
the color of crow feathers. I have learned to stay out of it.
I’d offer to help, but she is bitter as the onslaught wind.

by Martin Willitts Jr.

Martin on Facebook

Guest Editor’s Note: This poem conveys the uncontrollable power and mystery of natural forces, with the woman in childbirth possessed by and possessing them. The potentially overwhelming emotion of the piece is controlled by the narrator’s mildly ironic voice.

Please welcome Guest Editor Catherine Rogers from April 3-7, 2017.