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November 2, 2015

We leave the frozen

north for the half-frozen

southwest, leave

the driveway, climb

the hill, a December

sun falling behind

the mountain or what passes

for one in this adobe

state, the ghost

white of frigid chamisa

falling everywhere and my eyes

so open

they begin listening

at the periphery, the particulate

air, where they snag

on a pitiful scrub

pine, pulling

its tough green into orbit

around my iris, a color the Romans

called livid. Atticus is strapped

to my chest, his open palm

grazing the desiccated

blossoms, curling closed

around a tuft of piñon

like a starfish

eating a sea urchin. If only

he was as gentle

with the faces of the ones

he loves, who love

him, bloodying


lip with the violent joy

of reunion. We repeat this

word over and over,

gentle, but he is a brute

and handles the world

as if nothing

in it could break. Maybe

he’s right. Or maybe breaking

open is just what

we do

before whatever

is us is

recapitulated, remedied

a bluebird

whirling low

between pines. It’s too fast

for Atticus to track, but we all hear

its call, said to resemble

the word few, or maybe phew!

I catch the gray

bobbing belly

in my livid eye. Few

few, calling

scarcity out, open, the way

its threat belies

an undeniable abundance. We

suddenly see how red-threaded

this world is, tangled, and rereading

the desert’s throb

under all that snow, Atticus

is batting at his own

worn red nose, dutiful

thermometer. We reach

the museums on the hill

where common

desire grows

uncommon, flays

compliance to swell

and throb

where the unmanaged

blaze. We take off

our hats and gloves, blessing

the weather that leaves us

bothered, gentle

thanks even the baby

understands. The bracing that gives

way to embrace. The needles

of the pine there

to be touched, and so too

the cold pane, which he gives

a raspberry. I think

I’m beginning

to understand how brute

and livid love doffs

grace only to regain it

bringing new worlds

into orbit, affront

to everything steady.

When we get home he races

around the house, hands

clutching my fingers so tight

the knuckles swell. Then he’s calm

and searches the floor for

specks, treasure. We give him

a ribbon, a spoon. Everything is art

to be broken. The cat

and the bowl. Finally he sleeps

in the room with the skylight

blocked by tinfoil, tiny

holes for stars, muted clamor

ripping the night open.


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Author Image

Chris Martin is the author of The Falling Down Dance (Coffee House, 2015), Becoming Weather (Coffee House, 2011), and American Music (Copper Canyon, 2007), chosen by C.D. Wright for the Hayden Carruth Award. He has served as writer-in-residence at the Minnesota History Center’s Gale Library and as a Bartos Fellow at United World College. In 2015 he cofounded Unrestricted Interest, a consultancy and writing program dedicated to transforming the lives of people with autism. He also teaches at The Loft Literary Center and will be a visiting assistant professor at Carleton College in 2016.

Feature image by Charles Burchfield. Cricket Chorus in the Arbor, 1917. Transparent and opaque watercolor, brush and ink, and wax crayon on paper mounted on board. Sheet (irregular): 22 1/16 × 17 15/16 in. (56 × 45.6 cm), overall: 22 1/8 × 18 3/16 × 1/8 in. (56.2 × 46.2 × 0.3 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Gift of Anne and John Straus 2009.203. © artist or artist’s estate.

Click on the image to enlarge.

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