Spine


In Maine, at the edge

of an island, the huge

rocks went out, out


into the icy water

then suddenly down,

like whales sounding,


and I never saw a whale there,

but I was twelve, thigh-deep,

feeling that good cold

that gets in your bones,

makes you feel mortal, and up

came a dolphin, just beyond


my arm’s reach, its curved back

a smaller island, shining

wet, cloud-colored,


and I was afraid of it,

I wanted

to touch it, I stood


still, and then it

moved on. Days later,

something tender—


a doctor in Blue Hill

pulled from my heel

a smooth


greenish

sea urchin spine.

O my sharp


lost artifact,

let me

collect you now:


once I stood

half in the ocean

with a little shard


of ocean misplaced in me,

and I was light, light, without

even language yet to ask


what that pain was.


 

The Cupid Revealed in the Restoration of Vermeer’s Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window Talks Back


Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden

(https://observer.com/2021/08/vermeer-cupid-girl-letter/)


Instead of me, you wanted a white wall.

Cream with some blue in it, with shadows

so cool you used to actually exhale, looking

at that blank space. You felt it in your body,


a clearing. Now instead you have me:

my bold fat belly, my sturdy leg,

my weird golden bowl-cut hair. Now I’m

laughing, and looking at you. It’s time


we talked about it. You can see my baby penis,

because I’m a baby, and also because

I’m the god of desire. You wanted the rich

jewel-tone curtains, the Turkish carpet,


and at the center, her impossibly high

forehead, her concentration. You wanted her pure

profile against the wall. Now I’m

messing it up. I’m making you change,


as desire does. You may feel a bit crazy,

betrayed by the many experts

who vouch for me, but I’m the truth,

put here by the real deal old master,


dirt on my shoulder—before the restorer

removed it—to prove it. You wanted a quiet

room in which you could imagine a slow-

moving otherworld: the past. A better time.


Now that you can see me, you’ll need

to deal with it: sex, the body, the letter

she’s reading, the blush on her cheek,

that one time you don’t speak of


but remember perfectly. Didn’t you ever

wonder why the carpet is rumpled, piled up

on one side of the table, why the bowl of fruit

is half-tipped, spilling over below her


elbow? You feel silly now, don’t you?

Now you’re standing in the gallery,

in public, and you feel a hot flush

creeping up your throat. It is shame,


is it rage? You feel all unsettled.

I know. I see it every day. It’s okay.

He’s left you this window space,

with the light streaming in on the left.


Look at that, if you need to. If you need to,

you can keep pretending the light

is just light, and can mean anything

you want it to, or mean nothing.


You can watch that space, dreaming

of control, of perfection.

When you’re ready, whether

you like it or not, I’ll be here.


 

CHLOE MARTINEZ is a poet and scholar of South Asian religions. She is the author of the collection Ten Thousand Selves (The Word Works) and the chapbook Corner Shrine (Backbone Press). Her poems have appeared in Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, TriQuarterly, Shenandoah, Waxwing, and elsewhere. She works at Claremont McKenna College. www.chloeAVmartinez.com