from A HUNDRED LITTLE MOUTHS
by Valerie Martinez
from up above: lewh, whist, stlew, ist, histle,
and so it is with breath and sound, puckered
mouth, little o—aperture—through which
travels noise, pitched. harsh or sonorous.
un-, in-, -telligible. a small piercing. sweet.
behind which the body leans forward:
heel, arch, ball, knee, pelvis, torso, neck.
as if. upon. a precipice.
And the girl goes, meandering,
through a field defined by fences.
Link, slatted wood. Limned
by four back yards. Beyond which
the houses contract, holding breath.
Early morning. Quiet.
So she closes her eyes and hums,
telling the windows open, open,
let the air-song out.
And the girl’s foot in the dirt,
making its circles and shallow diggings.
So that the field is pockmarked
here and there, between tufts
of wild grass and weedlings.
Bird’s eye view:
a field poked and dotted.
making her marks.
of the red-winged blackbird:
throaty check, high-slurred
male song, with display
of his red shoulder patches:
female: chit chit chit chit cheer
or teer teer teerr.
And what is happening in the houses—
the man rinsing dishes, another
moving quickly from room to room,
glancing briefly out the back window.
Sight traveling down, skimming
along the backyard rock and dirt,
climbing up and onto the fence,
peering curiously into the field.
Toe-dragging, walking end to end
times two, then corner to corner.
The girl in headphones: agitated,
focused, curious, pumped.
“A diary fills its pages
With one eye on the clock
How long? How long
Have we got?”
And each afternoon, sprung,
the way the girls synchronize
their headphones, listen
to the same song, part
at the entrance to the field—
fist bump and nod. The way
she alone walks in, measures
in strides, north to south,
west to east, cater-corner.
Counting her steps.
Knowing the field expands
and contracts, a living thing.
On bad days, suffocation.
On good, the field’s borders reach west,
all the way to the Pacific,
east to the Black Kettle grasslands.
The land. She. A lung.
And the way the girl straddles
the field, takes up its four corners,
ties it like a balloon.
she: bird-of-the-world. lifting.
Here where the earth, air, word, body-wave,
bird-song are gathered--nest. Constant murmuration—
liquid, liquid ink. What she has learned to learn
by leaning—here at the precipice. Where the sound
is sound’s absence, absence a radical noise,
noise of all things radiating north and south
and west and east on the wave of her voice.
through the air and up.
here we are.
Valerie Martínez is an award-winning poet, educator, activist, and collaborative artist. Her book-length poem, Each and Her (winner of the 2012 Arizona Book Award), was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the PEN Open Book Award, the William Carlos William Award, and the Ron Ridenhour Prize. Her poetry has been widely published in journals, anthologies, and media outlets including American Poetry Review, AGNI, Prairie Schooner, The Best American Poetry, the Washington Post, and The Poetry Foundation’s Poetry Everywhere series. Valerie has more than twenty years of experience as a university professor. For the past ten years, she has been working with multidisciplinary artist teams through a wide range of arts and community development projects. She is the Founding Director of Artful Life which works to transform communities through the beauty and power of collaborative art. Learn more at www.valeriemartinez.net. "A Hundred Little Mouths” was commissioned and originally published in chapbook form for the Crowing Hens Whistling Project, directed by visual and performance artist Susan Silton. for SITE Santa Fe’s 20th anniversary event, November 7, 2015.