Poems from…


bright bookcover



For 37 years, St. Simeon Stylites lived
on top of a pillar. He ate only flatbread
and drank only goat’s milk.
His hands were as immaculate
and uncomplicated
as a moon.
The sovereignty of time
and age and weather
was always with him,
his faith was inviolate.

I see him smiling on his perch;
a voluptuous smile,
ideas hidden behind it.
On wind-filled days
there were probably times
when he was sick
of the whole pillared world.
Then, with the wind dying,
that particular sickness would pass
and he would be alone and content.

He knew what the world was:
everyone trying to get back
to the itinerant love of the old gods.
He knew that the world was forgetting itself
inside of dream sticks and dreams,
yet he pillared on. At night,
feral cats clawed at his home
crying out “Teach us!”
But, St. Simeon Stylites said nothing,
waited for the bomb to go off
in his box of regrets.


My friend Letty painted her door
with curling purple vines and
other plants: great green and
butter yellow eyes for blossoms.

With curling purple vines and red leaves
she painted her billowy blouses and parachute pants,
butter yellow with eyes for blossoms.
It was derangement, pure and simple:

painted billowy blouses and parachute pants
but her integrity was real, intact.
“Derangement, they said, “pure and simple.”
Pleas ignored, she posed, escaped into sleep.


On the window behind her,
the stems of palm trees were reflected.

She thought how they could scarcely
be called trunks. They were, in fact thick stems.

Pigeons gathered at her feet
(“rats with wings” her uncle said, “just rats”).

She had a vision of them
involving real field rats, garter snakes,

and owls. She had long since moved
beyond the reach of family, further

than all their words. She had moved
beyond her own premonitions of

what her life would be. She had
been out of sync with the flesh-colored

world of the living and now,
more familiar than she imagined,

came the quiver of knowing
and the narrowing silence beyond.


If only I knew where Now was, I’d live in it.
I’ve spent so much dream time on
my new births and baptisms.
I’ve christened the future with champagne
and popcorn, celebrated what must be coming
with chocolates and saltine crackers.
No matter; the memes say “Live in the NOW,”
so I’ve taken to searching for it.
Now may be the thinning of glorious light
just before afternoon gives up
to make room for dark.
It may be the vision the burglar sees
just before he lifts the window:

the flicker of the t.v.,
the couple on the couch with
their backs to him.
Maybe Now is the last solstice
or a breeze running across
the face of the moon.
Maybe it is the cafe with outside
seating and the purple umbrellas
discouraging summer’s heat.
I tell you, I don’t know, have never known.
Now is a mystery stuck between banks
of Broomrape and fog. If I knew
where it was, I’d live in it.

Painting by Pablo Picasso (Spanish artist, 1881–1973)

The smudge sticks she had been saving
seemed an appropriate going-away gift.
She would not acknowledge her grief
so she stared at the stuccoed walls of his condo,
until even they could feel his abandonment.
She hoped for a watering of his eyes
or a catch in his throat,
but they never happened.
His lover no longer, she found
her own way out the door
and forced herself to go home
where her heart was supposed to be.


We have made our artless ways across
sentences and stanzas and years.
We are accomplished navigators
even without mathematics skills.

We consider things that we never reveal;
women, after all, are closed journals
with small brass locks and keys.
We suffer insomnia or a kind of narcolepsy

either one scrapes off that which
covers our souls. We are more cruel
to ourselves than anyone else
could ever be.

Our intervals are peppered with fat facts,
calories, and skin care. We make the small
adjustments and the large ones without
much reflection; turn on a dime (so to speak).

Some teacher I encountered, who told the class
at the beginning that he hated modern poetry,
called late afternoon “the poet’s hour”and
spoke of it as a time of deception.

I have come to see that he was right.
Twilight tells more lies than any other time
of day or night. It points at nighttime
and hints at morning as a tease.

We turn on a dime, as I said, poke at small
adjustments, tackle the large and, even at that,
we allow beauty and cherishing to lead us
to the light and leave us there.


Write me a letter.
Start by describing
the sea at noontime.
Go on to tell me
about the seductive
bit of comforter
that ended up kissing
your ankles after
a dream-filled
night. Tell me what you
will have for lunch and
with whom you will share
a nap. Tell me about
your stomach pains
and about your ride
home last night when the
blue Mustang nearly
skidded into you
on the wet street. Tell
me about your favorite
dance track and which girls
are the best dancers
at your favored club.
Tell me if the green/
yellow tint to the sky
says that all may be lost
and if you think it
is a sign of whether
or not there will be
a tomorrow. Tell
me what brand of booze
you are shooting these days
and who took you home
last Saturday night.
Tell me if the divorce
still hurts and if you
wish you had children.
Tell me where you go
after you leave the
communion rail and
if the word “brunch” sounds
as needy and foolish
to you as it does
to me. Describe the
aleatory nature
of beguilement.
Write me this letter.
Everybody misses
somebody, right?


the sun is astonished
at its own defiance
and dedication to scrubbing
us clean and rinsing us off
in dazzle

white has new meaning
heats rock and fern
and curb and small pools
of water in the street
oil slicked      blue and red


Just another sidewalk
stretching out in back of me
nothing to fear.

Just yesterday’s miles
with the air let out.
See how they collapse—

air mattresses of time,
journeys to be pumped up
until they reach

the prescribed firmness.
Nothing to instill terror
in yesterday’s sleeping,

waking, walking.
But, this is today and
who/what is up ahead?

I had a nightmare once
in which I recognized myself
as a young married woman,

a mannequin really, waiting
for someone to pick me up
and take me home.

It doesn’t sound like a nightmare
when I tell it, but I was scared
out of my damn mind.

Just another boulevard
up ahead there where the
sidewalk forks and winds

One fork leads to a shaded
place fraught with acacia trees.
The other is the road not taken.


Is this God?

The mandibles of a mantis work endlessly
on tiny globs of food.
There is war all around her she cannot sleep.
Land and sea don’t have to bid
for their share of blood as she does.

What blood she sees, she ignores
in favor of her meal.
Jaws silently grinding…
Her ruthless attention is focused
on the same dirty deeds we all live out.

Is this God

These constant tests and challenges
a school of lessons from which
we never graduate…

When from the beginning
we see and taste our endings
when love is only a street lamp

shining into the (boarded up) window
of an old grocery store
is this God?

The rot on the edges of a pond
in back of some house in Red Wing, Minnesota,
mosquitoes and dragonflies
and shiny black slime reflecting the sun,
who can tell if it’s God or a minion of God?

Pooled water her altar wine…first
the stations of the cross, then kisses in
the slanted wind then, snap! and she eats
and eats again. She is unmoving,
a fountain statue. We watch her. We weep.

Stippled, bruised, why try to doubt
our endings? Do we stop watching
in order to chew, to buy, to dream?

We rub our own tired jaws, stretch our
limbs to reach for what will satisfy.
Biting down hard, we begin.

Is this God?


These poems are from the book NEVER COMPLETELY AWAKE. You can purchase a SIGNED copy of the book directly from me by going to: contact@martinanewberry.com.

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