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
and I was afraid of it,
to touch it, I stood
still, and then it
moved on. Days later,
a doctor in Blue Hill
pulled from my heel
sea urchin spine.
O my sharp
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
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