Poetry from John Martino

Empires Fall

One morning you leave the house feeling good. 
Great, in fact. The wind just right, a constant 
certain breath in the air, refreshing in a soft, 
invisible way, a reassurance that every step
you take is a correct step forward. Or, if not 
forward, then correct in its improvised			
arrangement, its volition to arrive somewhere		
else. Somewhere new. So you keep leaving
without having meant to. And you think, 
Nowhere to go but there. Where I’m going. 
You notice the sunlight filtering evenly 
through the leaves and decide, Perfect, 
just as it should be. Blue patch of sky 
showing between rooftops and trees, 
carrying the faint ghost of last night’s 
moon like an afterthought. Yes, all is 
well, the voice inside continues. Exactly 
the way you believed it could one day be. 			
Without turning to look, you see the house 
now behind you, the shut windows, the closed 
door, everyone still asleep, the white porch 
paint beginning to peel, flag on a stick
barely stirring. You watch it all recede, 			
growing smaller with each quickened step. 
Your eyes fixed on what’s in front of you 		
growing larger as you near. Eighteen years. 		
A lifetime ago. But you feel no sorrow, only 
joy. Or, if not joy, determination. You’ll visit 
again, now and then. Each visit more distant 
than the last. But for the most part you		
know this is it. This is change. Farewell. 				
Hello. Time to move on. While there’s time. 
And that voice inside reassures, This is good. 
This is right. This is always how it had to be.		

 

Goa, India

To the woman crossing the intersection
of Bogmalo and Zuari Roads
at 2:21 in the afternoon,
February 28,
 2019,
a Thursday,
with a big blue 
office cooler-size bottle 
of sun-bright plastic
water perfectly  
balanced, 
hands-free, atop your
purple covered head,
and which stayed there,
balanced,
glowing aquamarine,
even as your head turned
abruptly to catch me
attempting to take your image
with what I thought to be
a surreptitious camera eye,
and the look on your face:
can I ever forget
the sad quiet anger
that said, unmistakably,
“Don’t!”?
And I didn’t.
Lowering the lens,
then my gaze,
shamefully toward my knees.
Though you, no doubt,
believed otherwise as the light
turned green
and the taxi where I sat 
safely ensconced
sped off
in a different direction.
Greater that a rich man
will crawl through the eye
of a needle
than you will ever read this.
And yet, as Lord
Shiva is my witness,
I want you to know,
unequivocally
and with absolute contrition,
I didn’t!


To a Small House

The tests are back.
You’d die laughing
through leaves
if you knew.
(Myself silly too.)

Which is how, 
no doubt, it all 
began. And I 
wonder now 
if, perhaps, we 

could have found 
it in History 
with a capital 
“H” and stopped
it in its tracks?

Or at least on 
an old calendar
with a small 
“c” and mostly 
X’ed-out dates, 

though a few
circled (some
even starred)
in red, as well. 
Remember?

In any case, 
one of us 
judged (or was 
it misjudged?)
the way light 

appeared, entered
obliquely, gave 
a party 
(think: shine
on shine) 

and we were (or 
so we believed) 
radiant lines 
of pure poetry.
Something like 

an eternal silver
wedding cake,
one tier 
for each year 
of transparency,

i.e., blissful
indifference. But 
now the roses 
on the bedroom 
wall are peeling, 

the sofa just				
sits and sags,
and hands and 
feet look, if 
not ugly, then

certainly funny. 
In the end 
(according to
the tests (oh, 
you’d laugh!)) 

it will all swell 
unhappily off 
course and, 
of course, 
much too late.


Chasing Potholes

Two roads diverged in a sallow wood. 
With a load of blacktop, I traveled both. 
For one was just as hole-y as the other. 
Lucky me. Each led to Starbucks and a KFC. 

Oh, morning pee, where is thy stream?
In a week, I’ll be 53. Age is but a number 
of debilitating ailments increasing rapidly. 
Maybe I should have been a plumber? 

What if I have a question but can’t raise 
my hand? Will the little girls understand?
I flush with a blush. Verily, verily swirls 
the dream. Nothing to do and no one to

do it with. The spoon is missing the dish. 
Pave it all to Hell and back. Paradise is locked. 
I watch my night-sky screen saver pocked 
with stars. I pick one and make a wish.




How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found

Whittle with the wind. Blubber and bleed 
at each end. Drag your self with both fists 
down an alley of cut sharp rib. Let your rap 
hole reek of hemlock. Turn one white sock 

into an ill-fitting glove. For one buck, or less, 
do a killer moonwalk. Scream: “Not hungry!
ANGRY!” See that highway stretching sea 
to oily sea? It goes nowhere you need to be.

Pass people on the street curled up fetal, 
or laid out straight as a needle, and never 
know if they’re breathing or not. Play “Fifty 
Ways to Leave Your Liver.” Fifty little puffs of				

cloud descend upon the Giver. It’s just a world, 			
rigged and wired, rather silly. A crumpled atlas, 
really. One shrug, one cartoon K-9 ditching its fleas 
and—poof!: no more ground beneath your knees.		



The Kernel* 

I was all kneecaps and embedded lace. 
You were liquor on a paper terrace, 
eyes rimmed with salt air. The Paris	              
moon was a pistol in a mad cop’s face. 			

Between poems, I swung legs true 
and bare above my head until 
my hands split like sacks to spill 				
human sugar and Voltaire. You threw			 

a bottle of broken English at the plate 
glass window’s ear, ordered the maid 
to slice more mango. I tongue tied
a T.V. cord round the neck of 2008,

hung it like a good year. The green 
parrot squawked Merde! on the one clean 
scrap of floor. You cut the table in two. 
The House was divided with peach halves,

lamb’s blood. The daily bread was blue.
Between poems, commercials offered salves
on a gold and cushioned tray. Our raison 
d’etre was easy. Governing was our forte.


(*This piece borrows and repurposes a number of words from Carolyn Forche’s poem “The Colonel”.) 



American Sonnet		

Sitting here helping my fingernails grow.
Skating around my own mental rink. 

Hello’s but a stone’s throw 
from the immanent brink. 

The tape’s running slow.
My lips aren’t in sync. 

All night I crow. 
All day I blink. 

Can’t know!
Don’t think!

Watch Aristotle
spin down the sink.

I pass Love the bottle
and Love takes a drink.



John Martino is a writer, educator, and avid traveler currently residing in Hong Kong. Some of his wayward poems have found a home at North Dakota Quarterly, Another Chicago Magazine, Packingtown Review, and BOMBFIRE, among others. He is the Executive Editor at Home Planet News (homeplanetnews.com).


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