Carolyn Martin


Raking Leaves With Jesus

This afternoon I was thinking how remarkable
these sugar maple leaves in our backyard.
For weeks they floated down in colors so miraculous
I’d fling my rake aside and scoop handfuls up
with my bare hands. I’d squeeze yellows, oranges,
burgundies, trying to grasp their grace and tint.
I almost pinned them down today when He wandered in.

Flannel shirt, faded jeans, sandals impractical
for autumn rain. I looked twice, then twice again.
Clean-shaved face, auburn hair. Nowhere near
how He appears in statues or stained glass

He was in the neighborhood, He said.
Free time on His hands. Loaves and fishes packed.
His guys sleeping off a wedding feast.
Ever since the news about His mother and fine wine,
He said, invitations multiplied. Anyway, He was loving
one day on His own without arguments about whose kin
He was or where He lived for all those missing years.

He pulled out gardener’s gloves, grabbed
my steel-tined rake, and set to work without
so much as Would you mind?
We chatted about lilies, birds, mustard seeds;
how He shaped His parables; I, my verse.
I asked if Judas was set up. Was He in love
with Magdalene? What about Lazarus?
I had my doubts, I said. Tales told secondhand
can muddle truth with facts. He didn’t say a word.
His eyes advised some things are better left.

In our quiet truce, His piles grew knee-high,
my hands soaked colors in. Before we knew,
the afternoon was on the run so we let loose.
Two raucous kids kicking leaves toward the sky,
freeing them to coat our clothes,
making joyful noise around the yard.

Laughter settling down, we harvested again.
Filled recycling bins. Put our tools away.
He asked could He return when winter storms set in
and handed me His card. Cursive black on lamb’s wool white
advertised His mastery of gardens, miracles, snow.
I picked a stray leaf from His hair. Hugged Him
a grateful good-bye.  Said I’d call to let Him know.
Previously published in Carolyn Martin, Thin Places (CA: Kelsay Press, 2017)




The Prodigal Son Returns and His Mother Has Her Say

I can smell you on your father’s clothes –
the shame and slop beneath the beef and wine,
the feigned humility enriched by his delight.

I watched tonight. He sang and danced his best –
not for me or his firstborn; not for friends
gossiping behind our backs. He danced and sang
for you – a boy who hasn’t got a clue
he’s prodigal or knows what that word means.

You weren’t here to feel your brother’s rage,
your father’s stony moods; the years of drought
they would not speak to me – as if I birthed
your recklessness, schooled your audacity.
They could not see some things are far beyond
a mother’s reach. I cried and held my peace.

Now here you are in fancy robes and shoes,
playing at unworthiness, telling tales
of tragedies to open hearts you shut.
Save your breath. Your stink still rankles me.

I know how this plot ends: you are proclaimed
miraculous – once dead­ and now alive.
Your brother’s comforted. Your father plays
forgiving God. Who will deign to write
about a mother’s pain or dare to add
a line or two that I was even here?

Previously published in Carolyn Martin, Thin Places (CA: Kelsay Press, 2017)





To the Daughter I Never Had

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting …
trailing clouds of glory do we come … .
– William Wordsworth, “Ode: Intimations of
Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood”

Count yourself blessed I was born
without a mother gene. Clouds of glory
make sweeter bedding than the dinge of earth.

God’s honest truth? You’re saved ––
from my boxy frame, over-weight, tendencies
to blush on cue and over-dramatize.

You won’t adolesce in tears
because you’re too sensitive
or bemoan standing second best.

You won’t sit solo in a car,
counting tail lights trudging home,
peeling off the skin of who you’re not.

See, contrary to common lore,
nothing earth can teach is real.
It’s all restless noise drowning glory out.

Of course, you’ll never stroke
pussy willows on the star-burst tree
or rescue feral kittens from the cold.

You’ll never ride sunlit waves
on Maui’s shores or ripen awe
when aspens jitter fall.

You’ll miss first kisses underneath
consistent stars that spark
your body’s quickening. And yet,                   

your staying home this time – awake
and remembering – was a gift, my dear.
Let’s celebrate your un-birthdays and, if

you’re still curious, check in
with me the next go-around. Wiser then,
I may be prepared for wisps of trailing clouds.

Previously published in Carolyn Martin, Thin Places (CA: Kelsay Press, 2017)





Can’t be much worse than this:
sitting in the second row while the poet –
featured tonight for reasons only
the emcee knows – fumbles through a notebook
for the next offering he’ll serve up
in a voice that hovers somewhere between
pseudo-humility and arrogance
as he alludes to obscure Italian history
and no one has a clue so I’m free
to tune out everything but my mind
conversing with itself about a metaphor
that may – or not – redeem a line of verse.

He closes his book fifteen minutes
after he should, having warned us
three times we’d only have to bear
a few more poems – as if that would relieve
the strain of the clock winding down
and my urge to bolt for home where I’ll throw
my coat on a kitchen chair, grab my yellow pad,
and ponder where to add a new terrace
to the Purgatorio – somewhere, perhaps,
on the mountainside above the proud,
below the envious – devised for bloaters                                         
of words and those who feign applause.


Previously published in The Opiate




From English teacher to management trainer to retiree, Carolyn Martin has journeyed from New Jersey to Oregon to discover Douglas firs, months of rain, and dry summers. Her poems and book reviews have appeared in publications throughout North America and the UK, and her third collection, Thin Places, was released by Kelsay Books in 2017.