SUMMERS WITH MARTHA
I spent those dream-like summers with Martha
in a cottage on Lake Michigan,
the year Ike beat Taft and the awful
summer they killed the Rosenbergs.
Martha smoked her Chesterfields
and knitted through nights of crickets
and whispers along the shore
while Jack Eigen talked on the radio
broadcast from The Chez Paree
across the water in Chicago—
and in the morning, Seems Like Old Times,
the trombone glissading its soprano,
into Arthur Godfrey and His Friends.
She appeared and vanished
according to my mother’s curious compass reading
of where my affections might lie.
She talked to me about my mother’s anger,
the way women are and the mysteries
men and boys could never understand,
about her childhood in Escanaba—
her not-unhappy, long, unmarried life,
and about Doug, who appeared
from the adjoining room
at The Drake when she took me to Chicago.
Doug astounded me
while we sat one night by a campfire on the beach,
stabbing himself and laughing
while the jack-knife quivered in his prosthetic thigh.
“He needs my care,” she explained about
her empty bed in the room we shared.
“Doug’s illness,” accounted for the cries
and whispers through the wall.
Then slowly, there was less of Doug to love.
The following summer in Detroit
he dragged himself on crutches—
both legs dead-wood now—
and the summer after that he was in a wheelchair—
his empty coat sleeve pinned to his lapel—
Then the summer we went nowhere,
and there was no Doug.
I never told my mother about Doug
when she quizzed me on my travels with Martha,
because Martha and I had our secrets,
because I didn’t want to lose those summers,
and finally because
there was nothing more to tell.
A summer came when Martha didn’t return,
another summer, and another two.
Then a small package arrived from Seattle
with a letter—
from Doug’s little sister it said—
an Inuit, stone carving of a woman’s face
emerging from the dorsal
of a dolphin with a chipped-off tail—
“Martha asked me to send you this,”
the letter said,
“She said you were someone she loved,
that was all, and that you’d love this little stone fish.
It keeps a secret, she said.”
—from Rattle #50, Winter 2015
Dan Gerber: “I write poems because it’s my way of paying attention to the life of the worlds in and around me. I’d call it my religion, if religion is defined as the way one lives one’s life.”