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Jennifer Martelli

Dear Tortoiseshell Bowl I Stole

I Would Live There With My Cat

The Farewell

The Scrim



Dear Tortoiseshell Bowl I Stole

from my father’s chest of drawers, why
do you visit me in my poems? You stay
cool, cupped in my palm: a hard breast,
milkless, a moonless half-planet: marbled
whiskey gold, wine red.

I dumped my father’s coins, loose buttons,
tie clip embossed with the White House,
right into the trash, blew the dust
from your hollow scoop,
filled you with the Rosaries I stole, too.

Coiled and tangled Ave Marias:
the onyx and sterling and light wood decades
on little knotted steel chains,
and still you’re hungry.

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I Would Live There With My Cat

Along with the old hollow maples, most of the cats
have disappeared from the neighborhood: Boots,
Indie, Olive, whom I stole from the weed-choked
house around the corner, that flat blue one,
Tiger the ginger prince, my good huge Cosmo, and
a few ferals I made up names for: Claw,

Joey, Pretty Girl. My heart breaks for them. I blame
my father’s hate of cats for my desperate love.
There is a spite house, first one ever, in my town,
built to irritate neighbors with land stakes,
built to block the sun and access to it. Colonial,
defiant, and skinny, only a bit wider than I am

tall. It’s fine. I get it. I would live there with
my cat, grow flowers in patches and a wood box:
cosmos, asters, tiger lilies. String tiny lights
for the stars, globe lights for moons. Maybe plant
an olive tree. But the maples were too fragile
to last one more storm. Rotted to their innards,

they fell in thick branch-widths: fat arms tearing
down wires, causing the whole block to black out.
I could hear them cry when the men in buckets
rounded the corner with their orange vests, hard
hats, chainsaws. When the first tree came down,
my neighbor took it all so personally: she knew

we would surely spy on her at night, now
her children would die, too, as if their ages
were tangled in the useless roots. It is true,
I can grow so many things without the shade:
basil, warm baby tomatoes, chewy mint,
lavender and lemongrass to ward off

stinging things that bite because they can
or they’re hungry. My patio stays warm most days,
and I read, and my cat sleeps, or pretends to, still
and velvet. Occasionally, she stirs to chase a dried
leaf scraping across the bricks. She unfolds one
claw only from her soft black paw.

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The Farewell

                                                —Remedios Varo

Deep in my junk drawer of lost things, this:
my father’s long dead flip phone.
Its jaw hinges opened easily
and my mother’s voice fell out:
Call me. It’s June.
She’d lost her speech soon after:
dependent clause by clause

by clause by dependent clause.
And soon after, she’d lost her all speech
by June. Call me.
My mother’s voice fell out
easily when the jaw hinges opened.
My father’s long dead. His flip phone
deep in my junk drawer of lost things.

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The Scrim

Something in a smart tweed coat, Burberry scarf, and pearls

broke through.


I called it a ghost, though I wasn’t sure.

I called the ghost my mother who got lost

in her dementia, a cold blue equinox.


We found her in a food court, in a mall that would be dead in a decade.

She sat near Claire’s and Au Bon Pain.

Someone she didn’t remember was looking for her.


Ma, why didn’t you teach me to allow others joy?

Is there peace, at last, for you?

Are their cattails?

Do they split down their velvet sides and release their milky silk?


The whole world turned toward autumn,

strained the scrim holding us in place.

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In the dream during my second sleep,

the letters and all the words in the book

I wrote morphed: sharp glyphs

with horns, eyes laid sideways, arrows,

black birds flying away. I wake too

late on Sunday, cook meat in salty red

sauce to make amends to my husband

for my mean words I said and meant.

The sausages fry in their gut tubes,

curled, lovers spooning, the skin

sears in fat and spices: fennel, sage,

pepper. Plath, in her journal, wrote

The letters grew barbs and rams’ horns.

Shall I eat this meat after years of not?

Shall I reach out? Today, what is it

I must attend to with love?

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I have to learn to breathe differently, here,

Las Vegas-style. Today, I’ll tour the Strip

and all the ways my diamondback snake-

brain could unhinge and fix: blackjack, cool

green menthol cigarettes, shrimp curved

in pain, piled on ice sculpted into the Pietá.

I ask my friend, whom I’ve loved

longer than my husband or my children,

about snakes. I’ve done my research:

colubridae, Mojave green, sidewinder,

coachwhip, panamint rattler, basin green.

Will they come to the blue warm pool

she dug out back, surrounded by brush

and cacti blooms, herbs? No, she said,

only baby scorpions come. Clear and small

as my fingertip, all crustacean, arachnid,

and clawed. She says I may get a nosebleed

because of the heat, the arid air, the strange

elevation of a city so deep in its dry basin.

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Jennifer Martelli is the author of The Queen of Queens, selected as a “Must Read” by the Massachusetts Center for the Book, and My Tarantella, also selected as a “Must Read,” awarded an Honorable Mention from the Italian-American Studies Association, and named as a finalist for the Housatonic Book Award. She is also the author of the chapbooks All Things are Born to Change Their Shapes, winner of the Small Harbor Press open reading, In the Year of Ferraro from Nixes Mates, and After Bird, winner of the Grey Book Press open reading. Her work has appeared in The Academy of American Poets Poem-a-Day, Poetry, The Tahoma Literary Review, Scoundrel Time,Verse Daily, Iron Horse Review, and elsewhere. Jennifer Martelli has twice received grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Council for her poetry. She is co-poetry editor for Mom Egg Review.

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