Thursday, August 20, 2009

Reading at the National Book Festival, September 26, 2009

I am lucky enough to be reading at the National Book Festival on the Washington DC mall on September 26, 2009 in the wonderful company of U.S. Poet Laureate Kay Ryan, Jane Hirshfield, Tim O'Brien, Azar Nafisi, Ralph Eubanks, and others who will read as part of the NEA Poetry and Prose Pavilion. If you happen to be in DC on that weekend, please join us. For more information, go to

A new Santa Fe poem, for you. This one was written to accompany a mixed-media work, created by three generations of the Martinez Salazar Ridgley family (my own), consisting of mailboxes which hold letters from living family members to our ancestors who've passed. This and 10 other works will premiere at the Lines & Circles Family exhibition on January 15, 2010 at the Community Gallery at the Santa Fe Convention Center.

Letters to Wherever You Are

We write: Dear Diego, Dear Kate,
Dear Matiana, Dear Orrin,

as if paper and ink travel the air
between now and then, here
and wherever you are.

What we did not say, couldn’t,
wished we’d said, now have to—

I want you to know, remember,
it’s clear now, everything you said

flutters across the page.

We imagine a place, a moment,
when these appear in your hands
like strange birds, delicate,
weathered from the trip.

They open their small mouths.

Devotion lasts, and it is sung
in the voices of those of us
who are left behind,
making peace with the incomplete,
inarticulate, half-said.
The past is past and still
we write, fold, send, believe

they arrive in the place
between now and the day
their zig-zag flight mimics
the one we’ll take
when we too disappear.

Once, a nestling fell
from the rafters of the porch
and lay like a missive
on our front step. Its feathers
spread to reveal the thinnest
layer of bird-skin, pulsing
with tiny veins. Too small

to fly, we put it back in the nest,
up high, with five siblings
who knocked it out again.

Once, it opened its mouth as if
to feed, and what came out
was half breath, half sound,
from some world that wished
to take it back and did, later
that day, when its shivering

stilled. We felt culpable.
We had touched it, sullied
the world it fell out of.

These letters feel safe, reach
out to you who we’ve loved
from this tenuous distance—

draw the flight line between us—

honor the fact that we are still
here with our earthly language

written, folded, sent to you
in ink, on paper, on the wind,

wing-like, into the nest of your palms.

Valerie Martinez, copyright 2009

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