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Martin Lethe Jun 2017
My heart had grown small and hard
     a pebble, I thought: meaningless.
I knew the world this way, and was glad.

A small crack formed and I did not notice.
One more splintering of a useless stone.

But the world had done something to me:
I was changed, after so many years.
I had molted my rough hide
     and sunlight had gotten inside.

That crack showed me not a dry core
     but something green.
Not a stone, then, but a seed.

And I smiled.

I tended my seed, buried it
     deep and watered it.
It was like a birth, or a rebirth.

I did not know what would grow.
I anxiously awaited the first green shoot.

At first, nothing came, and I grew afraid,
But I felt it growing still.
When it poked its head above the soil
     I was lifted up.

I am no gardener, and this was a new thing.
I didn’t know what to call it
     or what it needed.

But I did my best to protect it
     and to keep it fed.

The day I couldn’t find it
I was calm, but concerned.
Had it perished?  Did it slumber?
Did it need more time to gather its strength?

I would not give in to despair.
Hope will be my watchword from this day on.


Imagine my surprise, then,
     one day,
     when I mounted the steps to your house
And saw a young shoot growing
In freshly turned soil, beneath the eaves
     just under your window.

My face cracked open, like a seed.
I did not remember leaving it there,
     yet there it was.

Later, when I looked at your face I saw
That you, too, had not noticed it.
So I will keep this secret.

I will water it a bit, as needed
     (it gets plenty of sunlight now.)
And muse idly on what it shall grow to be.
Martin Lethe Jun 2017
As oblivion slips up around me and ***** me down into unknowningness: All of the things that construct me slide away and fail.  When my breathing slows and stops and consciousness drifts, as though I am going to sleep, to sleep forever dreamless, not even alone because solitude requires self.  Time stretches out for those last few milliseconds: watch as the self is stripped like old paint from a dilapidated wall.  All the names, the places that I have known are disappearing shapes in a fog and are gone.  All the loves I have known, and lost, and loved again flit across my mind for the last time and recede into the dark.  My homes, my family, the games I play and the creaking of my bones fall silent.  Finally I never was a small boy in a sandbox, surprised and frightened by a garter snake.  I never was a young man scaling a high cliff with his friends.  I never drove the coast with a girl I hadn’t yet kissed; I never opened presents on Christmas morning or tasted bitter coffee in a rest area at night.  There is no longer any longing for these memories, these the bones that construct me.  There is no sense of loss, or any recollection that there was something there to lose.  The storefronts of my experiences are rolling down their doors and locking up for the last time: the lights go out one by one and I do not remember if I have ever eaten strawberries, or what they taste like, or if I am brave or foolish.  Colors are gone, no images, no language even to describe this to myself.  Smells are first meaningless and then never were.  There is music still, a thousand thousand songs that have driven me and inspired me and made me laugh and cry and filled me with joy and which I no longer have names for, and this, too, comes to an end.  As the flickering lights are squelched the denizens of the darkness behind personality and our constructed selves are left alone: Fear.  Hunger.  Lust.  Instincts so basic that they require no name, no body to inhabit.  They shrivel and die and are no more.  I no longer know who I am; I am untethered from all I have been and am almost nothing.  All around is blackness, not the blackness of space because location no longer exists and it is the blackness of void, no color nor knowledge of color but there is one unwavering star that remains in the sky and still gives me identity in this last breathless moment.  When that ultimate light fades and finally blinks off--my craving for you--that is when I shall no longer be.
Martin Lethe May 2017
Ah, Silence!  An ocean to greet me
As broad and as flat as a sword
In perilous, unbroken accord
It has siphoned my senses completely
And left me bereft and deplored.
All sound has no sense in these days;
It is meaningless, empty, and cold.
What matters the bells being tolled,
What heed for my blame or my praise?
Though the roar of the thousands increase
And the mountains erupt and release
Nothing, however discreetly,
Cuts through the din of the peace.
I have loved you so long and so sweetly
And I ask for no earthly reward
Nor hope for my hearing restored
But pity me now to entreat thee
All I seek, my Love, is a Word:
In all of this nightmarish calm
But one thing the stillness outstrips,
Every echo on Earth I would trade for.
There is naught in this world such a balm
As my Name tripping out from your lips.
It is all my ears have been made for.

You need not love me to thrill me
My thrill has been bought and paid for.
If thou wouldst with splendor instill me
Speak softer, and speak it once more.
Martin Lethe May 2017
The first time it happened, we were shocked and afraid.  Was she ill?  Would she die?  What could be done about it?  We wanted to cure her.  But the doctors determined that she was in no danger.  She was a medical oddity, an unusual case, one for the journals.  We sympathized with her, and hoped it would get better with time.

But it didn’t get better, and a strange thing began to happen.  We didn’t want to upset her, certainly.  But we would not immediately rush to comfort her.  When she fell we would tell her that pain is a part of growing up (and maybe we would be a little quick to pour iodine on her cuts.)  When she was afraid we would tell her there are much worse things to be afraid of in the world, don’t worry.  We left her alone a lot.

At what time did we learn to say hurtful things disguised as nonchalant observations?  At what time did we discover that we could say things that were not insulting, but left a stripe across her back all the same?  When we would make a move to help her, she learned to tell us that she did not need our help, could stand on her own.  There was a wedge between us already, and we would not make contact with each other.  We understood, but we grew weary of what we called her attitude.  We grudgingly accepted what we considered her faults.

As a young woman she reached out to others, but they all treated her the same.  She sought out the ones who wanted her the way that we always wanted her, or everyone was the same at heart.  It amounts to the same.  She would find no peace with those others, either, so she receded into herself, made into a statue by some wild and slow alchemy.  But she was ours, and we would never let her forget that.  Even when we pitied her we couldn’t stand her company.

It was around the time of her thirtieth birthday that it happened.  No one could have predicted it, or we were too much in our own world to see what was transpiring in the world adjacent.  Electric cars became all the rage, and soon that was all anyone was driving.  Somehow we were furious, but eventually we had to accept the new ways.  In a sense, an important distinction between us had been obliterated.  We were like everyone else again.  We struggled to fit in, but came to terms with the new order.

I would have thought that she’d be overjoyed.  It was not possible to be proud of ourselves.  Having no more use for her, we let her be alone in a house in the country, just as she wanted.  She was through with us.  Perhaps she didn’t know how to be around people anymore, or didn’t know how to want to.  I think of her, alone in that house for weeks, and then months, silently.  We never gave her anything she needed, and when we gave her her life back, it was too late to transform it, by any alchemy, into a life.

She did not know how to live.  She did not know how to not be needed, to not be despised.  When the police called, I was the only one who came to see her.  At the foot of the cliff, on the beach, with her body broken, I thought I might not even recognize her.  But it was not her body that seemed strange.  I did not understand why her face seemed so alien to me.  Then I understood, finally.  She was smiling, lying in a puddle of gasoline.  I do not know what she felt, at the end.  Perhaps it was freedom, or perhaps something else.  That was a few days ago now and I have been tidying up her house for sale.  I have called a few of the others; they are arriving today by electric car.  Below me, the spot where she sought her final rest gleams like a rainbow.  I do not know what I will tell them.
Martin Lethe May 2017
When morning came I thought of you
And of your bright eyes shining there
Playful, smiling, peering through
A spilling spray of silken hair.

A jest, a kiss, and so to war
To battle through til evening’s rest
But never has a heart before
Dwelt safer or in any more
Impregnable a human breast.

Despair?  I heed it not, my dear;
Nor Hatred crack my weary skin.
That evil motivator, Fear
Will find no foothold here within.

So toll these sorrows’ elegy
Thy strength and grace doth all inspire
And I am borne on wings and free;
The knowledge of your love for me
Is all the courage I require.

When evening came, the truth it brought:
Imagination’s fatal flaw.
I thought that it was you I saw,
And saw that you were just a thought.

But lacking any other will,
And, needing strength, I think it still.
Martin Lethe Feb 2017
The world has not gone unnoticed.
She has shown herself to me, seductively,
A burlesque of sunrises and rains,
A flash of open highway, the kick and spin
Of caves beneath the ocean and deserted plains,
I have heard her ****** ballads and her sea-shanties
Have seen the plunge of her falcon
and the depth of the infinite sky
I am certain I caught a glimpse of her *******
And a wink of her mischievous eye.

She has shown me power and life, inescapable.
She has opened her arms to give me all.
And for my part, I drank it all, insatiable.
Left to right, and north to south
I took it all in, through my eyes
And through my mouth, and absorbed through my skin.

She has molted glorious hide for glorious hide
Moment by moment, for time immemorial
And I am but a baby nursing:
I am swollen to the point of bursting.

Something else was in the air
I was captivated by a marching band,
By the pungent smell of a metaphor,
And with a cigarette in my left hand
Finally I could not contain any more;
Either tripped up, or lifted on the radio buzz
I became a song--without physical form
Radiating, reverberating through the buildings
Or the trees, or wherever I was.

It comes down to this, this transformation:
It is a trick I learned from the masters, oh,
And the neophytes of each generation
In a place deep down below
That I hollowed out, swallowed, and took part by part
All the stories, all the music that had been played
As they were gathered
Here into the ear of my heart.

And I was made.

A song has a shape, but not a limitation
I could travel whole from room to room
Join with others in a convocation
Earth myself with a mighty boom
Gleam imperious, a holy crown
High as a satellite, or soft as cotton

I cannot be tied down
Nor forgotten
Not when I am a song.

There was a time, either before now, or later
I cannot recall;
When the world was wreathed in gloom.
Dark night came and conquered all.
For every joy, two curses came.
Misfortunes stagger against our weight
But redouble and resume
To quench our dull and sputtering flame.
The car won’t start, we missed the bus;
The bills, unpaid, grow beards.
No one comes to rescue us.

This house groaned, old and aware
That its days were not long.
It lay upon me like Atlas,
Foretold its collapse,
Crumbled and mumbled
As I grieved and retrieved all the scraps.

But when it grew too great
Even for my sturdy form to bear
I became a song--weightless,
Unbreakable, and carried along
By heaven knows what
Into heaven knows where.
for S. J.
Martin Lethe Apr 2016
For A. F-H., whose smile is our beacon.


Long I wandered wild in lonesome lands
Footsore and weary through barren plain
And rock-peppered hillside, though be it in vain
Seeking a country where a person might thrive
I staggered and scrabbled, half-dead, half-alive
Digging sour meals from desolate sands.

In darkness I trudged as through a great maze
In endless dim hollows I scooped and I strayed
Thinking myself master of all I surveyed
Not knowing the name of the lands that I crossed
But knowing the freedom of those who are lost
Until two bright ****** appeared through the haze:

The stars!--I’d never known them before!
Or thought I had, but these were spectral and wild
And flickered and danced like the hands of a child
Had I known only cold white pebbles in space?
But these were of substance and held in embrace
A promise of peace upon some distant shore.

My wandering complete, my journey begun
I set my shoulders and plotted my course
I travelled with purpose now, seeking the source
Until I met another wanderer who--
Come now!--You see them?--Will you follow them too?
And we went on together, as one.

The stars, ephemeral, shifting color and hue
Lured us on like some mystic queen’s diadem
We puzzled at great length on the nature of them
Were they set to guide us?  Or tear us asunder?
They calmed us, inspired us, and--wonder of wonder--
We met other travellers, who followed them too.

They must hold in their beauty some grim destiny!
A dozen, a score of us beat out a path
Through grasslands and forests, a widening swath
Teeming with hope, on a night cool and still
We gathered our strength, crested one final Hill--
And looked down on a town called Century.

Ah, Century!  That was the name, and mark it well!
There was no fanfare; we were not expected.
But we were greeted warmly, and accepted
With quiet grace we were handed mugs of beer,
Given seats by the fire as if we always were here.
And perhaps we were: I cannot tell.


I had my ease there, and fell to talking
With a quiet and ancient man, who listened, rapt,
As I told of our exodus, and then clapped
With joy as I mentioned the stars when they came.
He bristled with pride, as though hearing the name
Of an old dear friend, finally come knocking.

I (with a penchant for telling, of course,
And seeing his bright face elated to hear it)
Described how the stars cried out to my spirit,
How they swooped and they soared as if in a pageant
And glittered with every color imagined,
Sweeping my future along with their force.

He greeted my discourse with little surprise.
He chuckled and rocked on his small wooden throne
And bested my story with one of his own.
“My vision is gone,” he said, “Those stars are no more,
Though I’ve seen what you speak of, one time before--
Not in stars, but a shepherd-woman’s eyes.

“Before there was a town here, there was naught
But a rustling river that gabbled and hissed
And a tribe of lost creatures, spied through the mist
Scattered by champions and kings long forgotten,
Trod on, passionless, wispy as cotton;
To scratch out meager living was their only thought.

“This the shepherdess found when first she arrived.
Others found them pathetic, worth a glance, if that much,
But her heart was a lion’s, and she saw them as such.
Her banner flew proudly, it snapped and it played
As she rode through the valley to begin her crusade;
The people knew darkness, had merely survived--

“But her light came to them to fill them with vigor.
She shone like a beacon, she growled and roared
And the lost souls came unto her as a horde
A lantern, she fed them her fierceness and love:
A lighthouse below, and two stars up above.
Dim history’s vast, but her glow proved the bigger.

“They came to honor her--
we* came, I should say,
She taught us to teach ourselves, taught us to build.
Taught us to love ‘til our heart’s overfilled.
We built her a statue to never forget
And shine a bright lantern from each parapet
And we carry her legend to this very day:

“Ambition we have to be more than we were,
And know that we each have a light of our own;
When grim fate insults and the road’s overgrown,
The sun shines down here and heals every hurt twice
Where she led us and let us build our paradise,
And we call ourselves Century, after her.”


Now nestle I here where all roads end.
The old man hyperbolizes, of course--as do I,
But lead us by example she did, by and by,
And her light shines as long as memory will allow,
We treasure her beacon as much then, as now,
And she has been, and always will be, my friend.
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