the poetry that matters

Camille Martin

Camille Martin, a Toronto poet, is the author of Sonnets (Shearsman Books, forthcoming in 2010) and Codes of Public Sleep (BookThug, 2007). Her work has been widely published in journals in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Her current work in progress is a collection of double sonnets. She is also engaged in a project funded by the Ontario Arts Council: a long poem (working title: “The Evangeline Papers”) based on her Cajun/Acadian heritage and her recent visit to Nova Scotia to participate in an archaeological dig at Beaubassin and to research Acadian and Mik’maq history and culture. She earned an MFA in Poetry at the University of New Orleans and a Ph.D. in English at Louisiana State University. Currently she teaches writing and literature at Ryerson University. Her website is http://www.camillemartin.ca and her blog is http://rogueembryo.wordpress.com

six from nomadic slant


by the time i get to the border, i’ve already forgotten
why i came. must be for its own sake, for the point now
seems moot. anyway, it’s a good place to camp,
and i can still see out my own window. it might be just
a fantasy that the panorama appears broader here,
or that i can quibble as long as i like. it would be a different
matter to change the story, brutish but at least not yet
malevolent. i think i know my disease, but really
i only catalogue the symptoms. for example,
my eyes being the exact shade of the tree bark they invert.
and my thoughts having no passport, no home, just
background noise to accompany their inevitable mistakes.
here i can fail the rorschach out my window every
time, giving dubious answers to indefinite

prompts, chattering endlessly about rivers flowing
upstream. still at the border, suspended and moving
toward more suspension, lying in a dim room flying
at breakneck speed through the expanding universe. all i know
is that a little sand makes a few marbles. and i can’t shake
the feeling that random is just another fingerprint, one
planted on aging vellum, another on a revolver’s cartridge
that’s still spinning by the soft light of the sun, here
at the edge where the leaves on the tree huddling next
to my window are the last to turn yellow and fall, still
filtering the light that lands on the children playing
in the park below. it’s a more ordinary place than i thought
it might be. i’d know their little calls and yells anywhere,
though it seems i’m always hearing them for the first time.


an opening motif rises to the surface for air.
it’s possible to begin, but part of the ocean
is missing. a map minus the legend, landmarks
without built-in familiarity. or: a word falls
through the floor. roundabout chord progressions,
tricking the larger harmony into following, even though
the logic is as slippery as the last dream not
remembered. i keep looking for difference, but
the plants tend to merge as if they had a common
root. a breeze in a continuity of breezes. the worst
advice for capture: to draw on a distant memory,
identifying a criminal who’s rubbed his fingerprints
smooth, though he still whistles a distinctive
tune just before capturing and rubbing out

his next victim. but his hobby turns out to be
harmless, plunging from one thing
to another (as if falling through the floor). locks
give way, planks into splinters (or maybe surfing
the panorama). the decision can wait. what
i was saying before seems eons ago. and i really
should make a move but the moment never
seems to arrive. it just sits in a stairwell transposing
its letters, linking windows to rooms, glyphs
to survivors who dangle at the end of their own
speeches. just like that, they do what they fondly
believe, believe the words they fondly mince,
wedged as they are in habits that resuscitate
the moment they surface, gasping for air.


the town has grown, its creaturely thoughts
disproportionate to the drizzle of facts that rain
upon the fields on the outskirts, enough
to encourage the kudzu vines that threaten to climb
the town walls and engulf houses where they stand,
people where they think. the town keeps its plans
to itself. as soon as i arrive, the streets are already
empty. the people left their minds to enter a new
story, leaving others to shoulder the burden
they’d always pretended didn’t exist. but a bit
of thought crept loose and intertwined with the kudzu.
they squandered their chance and now tendrils twirl
aimlessly down the streets. but why, i write, why
invent a topic that was already there? why spatter paltry

notes on the staff when dogs howl, inviting more
howls to rescue the air with their sonic ropes? huh.
here come the vines again, acting as if they belonged
to the animal kingdom. who better to understand
their drama than one of their own? other catastrophes
buckle under the weight of dirt clods whose every
atom has been replaced by heavy metals, but the vines,
the vines devour staircases whole. would ceasing
to move things around solve anything? maybe not,
but it would offer an excuse to let the people know
the extent of the damage before they return
to take their places where they left their thoughts.
then again, how could they fathom it?
they’ll find out soon enough.


letting in a sliver of morning as an offering, like blue plastic
horses melting on a hot sidewalk. or from a jetty, watching
a parhelion sun slip into a lake. just another selective
autobiography, inviting rain and continental drift to wash
away tell-tale craters. weather never bothers
the horizon, just leaves it lying there, typical, composite,
mostly unmemorable from habit until i’m in the eye
of a storm, watching for the wall to arrive again. or until
i spot the soft sheen of olive trees far from the centre
of an ancient city that sprawls hundreds of feet
below me as i’m brought to my knees by the tower’s
height. then, it looms large, connecting cardinal points
below the solo moon, like happenings threaded together, one
room causing another, morning melting into dusk, tower

into clay roofs into olives into horizon. i like to believe
that things are steeped in their own pigment. and i know
i’m wrong. if only i could prove it or at least find the right
proportion: two suspended liquids to one
target. the liquid boils and bubbles rise, burst
their pithy lives into swarms drifting out the open
window. somewhere lurks the plague, but maybe
you can’t get it on a rainy night, immunized by the first
flamboyant thing to enter your head, unknown x, half-empty
for all its bruit. belief in rescue becomes a habit as if
it were something that couldn’t possibly happen,
and if it could, we’d have to make do with our own
voices while we pass each other hurrying down shiny
streets, umbrella grazing umbrella.


it’s night and the clock begins to rust.
ophelia drops a stitch, light nibbles
a shifting breeze, and a fly collides
with a half-dreamt spider web. for a change,
all manner of things fall down the well
and into sleep, black bear and tundra
flora alike. i don’t make it so but only
channel this feeling synonymous with wings
quivering in quiet suspense. spandrels
make room for more spandrels. and why not,
for a change? impossible to forget
the involuntary embroidery of speech.
light ebbs, and like a paralytic stinger
calms every gravity fishing for more

gravity. i can loiter and let whatever
land, or navigate in the manner of dust
floating toward the shiny world, for once
well-versed in its own secrets. far
from the desert, far from the tropics, night
falls onto the shadow of a tree. even
the town crier sleeps. if i pantomime,
i’ll lose detail, distorting houses
in the suburbs, but gain a figurative love
in you. you laugh, but whenever we
meet, i present you with the facts, even
though, as usual, i unwittingly lay waste
to wide swaths of happy homes
and their stainless steel clocks.


here you are again, reading something
that will bring you nothing but—and here
you can fill in your favourite superstition
as you spend a little time deciding whether
or not you actually believe in it, and ponder
such troublesome questions as why you might
be hard-wired to accept such unenlightened notions.
how imperialist of me, though in a nice way,
i hope, to pretend to read your thoughts and even
direct them. i didn’t begin this—whatever it turns out
to be—intending to sound like walt whitman suddenly
leaping into the future posthumously, looking young
and handsome in a disheveled kind of way, radiating
presence and peering over your shoulder as you read

his words telling you that right this minute he himself
is looking over your shoulder as you both gaze
at the umpteenth edition of his oeuvre, giving you
goosebumps as you marvel at his ability to project
his ghost into the future and enter the psyche of every
reader of his words. i didn’t mean to, but i did, so
i’ll just have to see it through. i’ll try not to be
annoyingly present. so, where are you as you read this?
do you like looking out windows? what does
your name mean? mine is an age that dreams
of technology making us immortal at the same time
that it predicts disasters of mass extinction. so here’s
my fantasy, here and now: i or my words are still
alive, and so are you. go, little song.

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