Poems By Martin Willitts, Jr.

In the Beginning We Tumble Into Light
“In the beginning was the conversation” — Erasmus’ translation of John 1:1

In the beginning we tumble into Light.
We communicate in basic sounds
to express our needs. We need light;
yet we sleep and nourish. Our frailness
makes tenderness and care possible.
Our imprint of wailing need is constant
and dependent. This is never forgotten,
yet outgrown. Our small reaching arms,
our tracking eyes, test what sounds
evoke and which are ignored.
Sound is foreign and learned, mimicked
and memorized, cause and effect passed
from child to parent, sharing common need.
From soundlessness to combining sounds,
making engagement, words are both archeology
and expansion. Communication is the beginning
of misunderstanding. We are embodied in language.

This is why it is so hard to talk with you.
Your words engaged our beginnings.
It should be easy as light and sound.
We should start with endlessly talking,
never running out of words to say or share,
or questioning, fishing for answers in shallow streams.
Let it always be this easy. It is as easy
as finding secrets in an acorn among the wordlessness.

Silence is waiting to speak,
from the beginning, when all messages were said,
on the ledge of awe.

(First appeared in the anthology, Meditations on Divine Names
Appears in the full-length collection, How to Be Silent, FutureCycle Press, 2016)


Barn Swallows

Under the bare branches shaking their last leaves,
increments of light never reach here.
Two barn swallows are soundless in the miles of heat.
They are where the river once cut across.

Not from the church choir,
they are too parched to practice.
They have folded their wings into starched clothes
like prayer hands etched from plowing.

They begin gliding for no reason.
Maybe they are trying to stir the stilled air.
Maybe this is why the miles are soundless,
why singing just doesn’t help anymore.

(First appeared in Autumn Poetry Sky Daily
Appeared in the award-winning chapbook, The Wire Fence Holding Back the World, Flowstone Press, 2017)


Sudden Chill  
Based on the painting, “Gloucester Farm”, by Winslow Homer, 1874

She gave him a ladle of fire-cold spring-water.
He drank loudly and forgot to thank her.
Afterward, water tasted like love ignored.

The hoeing was hot, sweaty work. So he drank
until his head was numb. He did not notice
the icy-intense stare of a woman ignored too often.

She did not understand his silence.
When a farmer stops working, nothing gets done.
He did not have time. The cows were lowing.

For her, love would be noisy butterflies,
or the moon, half-awake, in the rafters.
It was the fence knocked down by hunters.

It was a paper cutout opening into two hearts.
It meant what it meant.
If she could explain it, it would ruin the meaning.

For him, tomorrow meant more of the same.
He would get up before the rooster. Go out;
milk the cows dry as wheat. Thrash the corn.

Work until his body was a split-rail fence.
Days were numbing. The same everyday-ness.
He would miss how quickly she would flow,

moods like cloud-cover,
her eyes blinking, wide-eyed, and hoping.
He was not cut out for anything else except haying.

She was a frantic heartbeat,
and he was a slow, assured, measured one.
Things mean what they mean. One day, she was gone.

Chances move quickly
and are gone, just as fast. Like a papercut.
Sometimes they just move at their own pace.

(First appeared in Centrifugal Eye, nominated for a Pushcart, reprinted in The Centrifugal Eye: 10th Anniversary Anthology
Appeared in full-length collection, Three Ages of Women, Deerbrook Editions, 2017)