Carolyn A. Martin  

You do not have to be good.

     – Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese”

Ain’t that a kick in the head!
After all the bunk about straights and narrows,
wrongs and rights, confessionals
where venial sins are laughable,
it’s come down to this: we’ve been duped.
Friday fish, forty fasting days, crownings
in the Mary month of May; sexuality,
callused knees, indulgences that smudge
our sins: they don’t add up to good.
Neither do tidy rooms, top grades in school,
nor mandatory modesty.

So let’s delete the snake behind the apple tree
and every bite of stale theology.
Let’s resurrect original wildness
and ramble through valleys scratched and scarred,
down unquiet streams, across raging fields
of blooms disguised as weeds.
Let’s celebrate every fleshy flaw,
each mistaken thought that turns out true.
Let’s race wild geese to the nearest star,
cheering on imperfect
nakedness with disheveled glee.


(Previously published in Gyroscope Review.)





Ready are you? What know you of ready?
– Yoda

If this were my final day on earth, I’d like to think
I’d be sitting at the kitchen table with my coffee mug,
watching the sun scramble through our winded firs,
hoping the squirrels and feral cats would walk 
the backyard fence. I’d like to say goodbye.

No doubt I’d check the morning news – another night
of death-by-belief, natural and unnatural catastrophes,
three million souls adrift in un-homelands.
This misery, I’d comfort myself, will ease the letting go.

I would hear you open the bedroom door,
walk down the stairs – steady as any day
before – and look at me expectantly.

We would sit side-by-side, agreeing
there’s nothing useful in worrying,
nothing helpful in judgment or regret.
I’d memorize the cadence of your voice,
the sharpness of your deep brown eyes.
I’ll know them when we meet again.

Just so you understand, I am not afraid.
I’ve been there before. The fact remains
my last day may end tonight or in two dozen years.
For now, there’s nothing more to do than warm
my coffee up, cheer on the squirrels and cats,
and tell you I love who and where we are.
While earth counts up its scars, take my hand.
Let’s watch the sun break free above the firs.


(Previously published in The Galway Review.)






Graveside: A Conversation with My Dad

I’m sure by now the chipped green bench is gone
from Main Street. Remember that late July
it freed us from our family’s bickering
over booze and heart attacks and who sued
whom for what and why I ditched them all
for twenty years of vows and veils and prayers.
Escape? A call? A waste? They can’t decide
about my former convent time. No matter
what I say, they won’t believe a word.

Remember how we fled their too-much-talk 
to stroll the Woodbridge streets, settling on
the shaded bench near the A&P
where buses stopped with drop-offs from New York
and bags marked Ace Hardware passed us by.

You didn’t know the woman I’d become
through decades of unbidden loves
so I wracked up facts you could approve:
my latest business plan, four published books,
the hillside house I built in Oregon.
I watched your almost-eighty eyes tear up
the way they always did when your three kids
made you prouder than you made yourself.

And I remember each word – My tomboy
in a business suit! – and how you wrestled
up a smile – That’s always been my dream for you.

I’ll tell you, Dad, you caught me by surprise –
dreaming my dreams before I could, wanting me
to claim them for my own. One truth six months
before you died. One I could not return.

See here? Your name on this new marble
slab with your Navy rank in World War II.
No dates chiseled yet or inspiring words.
A modest steppingstone that twenty years
of mud and weeds will, no doubt, disguise.

If I had my way, I’d carve you a bench
from Connemara green and anchor it
near this site. A monument – immutable
and safe – where we would sit on summer nights
sharing baseball scores and watch families

drop off their grief. We’d banter about words
to inscribe on the bench’s modest plaque:
Husband. Father. Brother. Dreamer. Friend. 
Then we’d take turns releasing secrets
into dusk like enlightened fireflies.

(Previously published in The Wild Ones.)




Carolyn Martin is blissfully retired in Clackamas, Oregon, where she gardens, writes, and plays. Her poems and book reviews have appeared in journals throughout the US and UK, and her second collection, The Way a Woman Knows, was released in February 2015 (