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Martha King reads some unpublished poems and then a word about Max Sees Red

I was thinking about recording Martha King reading from her new book, a mystery called Max Sees Red, but when I got to her place, she decided it might be better to read some poems instead, unpublished ones that she wanted to give some breath to, get them out there into the air, and that is what we did.

The Women of North & South

are called Europa

who was a fat lady carried away by a bull
who is a continent full of people
who is a fat lady – her skirt is Russia
one arm is Italy
the other arm the withered Danes
whose head is Lady Spain
who skirts the British Isles floating immaterial above her head
who travels by train

Europa, the well
has many faces
all of them his

I tell his stories and my side
His is mid-Atlantic, nowhere and
both sides at once

His qualities of humor (does he spell it with a U?)
scattered like peas, like measles, like poppy seeds

When I see behavior
I wonder if he spells it with a U

Together perhaps we are
seeing more than one of us alone would do
are the men and the women
who are in each other
with many faces welling

I tell American stories always divided
and some of the women of North & South
are called Europa

Twenty-first century

In northern Wales they plant fast-growing Douglas fir
above the slate slag heaps

The blue black trees are harvested for money
While slate tiles taken to Boston become a trash commodity
bought and sold for ballast, landfill, gravel

Once the future was a train, whistling and steaming
changing women into human beings
On the stage they stepped out of their clothes and walked forward
popular as a shampoo we can use every day

Busby Berkeley prints a twisted message into germ cells
a dancer stumbles
the Welsh-grown firs are so fragile
large subsections suddenly brown off

The light snaps on
backs straighten up
clean curtains are hung without washboards
the incidence of scrofula and scabies
drops to zero
and gross child abuse, while still extant
is everywhere considered criminal

The dark firs are beautiful as alien as wheat
moire patterns in the understory multiply
a future that will never be
agrarian again

Women don’t cry about this
we lost everything last time around

We women invented weaving
and we are brilliant oppressors

The future
is not present

Firs jangle coins in my red beret, under a sunset stained chemical pink, past an old wall, over a steel bridge, in a poisoned breeze, stepping forward to shake my shining hair streaming to the past. . .

Working Backward
(For Lucia & Laurie)

Each dirty breath I take…
I work backward

Once I drank time like a well with no bottom
but now I taste suspended sand

Laurie, I love the structure of it
the gray lines, and the darker ones
the measure
inscribing white white space to the right

Because light moves on the page

Because we need a physical structure to hold us

Because we have to live level by level.

Lucia, I love the oncurling line
in the old tradition it needs no page.

once we drank time
but today
bless every dirty breath

Pilot Mountain Translation
(Tresses for Julian)

Bear. Bat wing. Not flying but hiding.

Tresses for Julian. Prayer. Bat wing.

What has he been stealing from the Indians?

Listening to them, Basil said. It was wind.

We were driving in a new car up a graded road
to a prepped parking lot to a state-operated
flush toilet with an ice water fountain and a
leased, branded concession, neon for clarity.
There, on a paved path, signed to warn
how easily a visitor
could die, we approach a viewing platform and
across a drop see a mountain’s innards, an old stone
cone of chunked grey, once molten hot,
now ringed like a balding head with pines. The
pines talk. What Indians said is still circling the
placid sky. Where raptors circle. Hawks?

What they do.


Placid farmland and exurbs slouch far down.

From above, forest looks almost undisturbed
except for very tidy edges. Slowly and they
look. We look. The air does not look, it moves.
The pines whine and sussurate, sibilant
mumbling. Air fills the gaps and spaces with air
presence, brings a conversation sound to our
skin. Not far from the new car, the warm
running water, the liquid soap in stainless steel
dispensers. Not far from the ice machine,
tampax machine, coke machine. Sunlight gilds
the fall leaves. Even brown ones catch gold. The
light goes right through. We slow down and see
each slow thing. Rocks breathing….

What has been translated that we are not imagining in the first place?

Would it hold more to accept it as a metaphor?

Being here now is what we did then, a
kind of translation as I write this here,

Found in a drawer

after 4 days of cold rain
an eclipse of the sun
behind the clouds, and
Basil’s 49th birthday
our cat
bolted out the front door

4 days of cold
an eclipse of the sky hid the sun’s performance
it is Basil’s 49th birthday
and our cat July
has bolted out the front door
and hasn’t come back

4 days
of rain
of eclipse
of a birthday that beats
on our cold shoulders
are we truly this foolish, are
we really this older
has it been days, rain, eclipse
has the cat left us forever
after too much rain?

I have my window open on gray days

In grammar school
pale ceiling globes
floated on
gray sky outside

In the new school, all the blackboards were green

A week is a measure of light, I think
the natural number is five not seven

pointer, tallman, ringman, pinky

A teacher young as I am now
is opening her pale pink mouth
announcing the things society needs

pointer, tallman, ringman, pinky

I keep the window shut on bright days, in fear of trapped heat

Martha King


Martha King’s murder mystery, Max Sees Red, is an entertaining artist’s who done it that I enjoyed very much. It takes place in New York City and its upstate environs in the 1970s. Spuyten Duyvil Press has published it. You can check them out here:


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