Martin Edmunds

Two poems from Martin Edmunds’s Polychrome
followed by a note on the author

Petra, Jordan

My laughter
is the crackle
of kindling

at midnight, the moon,
my white goat caught
on a thorn.

You are a man on his knees
peeking through a keyhole
when the door is open. Heaven

is my tent-roof
hung by a rope from the sky.
Sleep with me,

I am sweet tea, I am these
red seeds
on a white plate.

Don’t let your heart
be a bird that starves
with food in its cage!


My blue-lipped, unsubtle mother, this summer sea
wants me stretched out naked on her bed.
Her glib tongue’s numbed my pulses. Soothingly,
her kisses cooled the bruises on my head:

fontanelle and temple, ear and eye
ceding their fever to the spray’s plump lips.
Her grey flesh begs my health and youth to die.
Cold grease, her kisses smeared along my lips.

Yet her waters washed away the mortal stain
of childhood’s wishing to remain a child.
Sad fats and acids ate into my brain.
I saw where the dogfish kept his white bones piled.

I saw a mare’s nest float on the ocean, wild
stallions ramp to mount each swaybacked wave.
Horseshoe-crab-tail trocars rasped and filed
my neck free of her torc. The salt-walled cave-

mouth gripped and gaped behind my murdered head.
Crisp sea-foam laced a skullcap round my crown.
No Queen of Egypt fished me into bed.
I was Moses, I dozed and floated, only face down.

I held my breath and did the dead man’s float,
eyes closed, my lashes fanned by gill and fin.
On the third day I began to bloat
till not a wrinkle marred my silvered skin.

Stiff fiddlers picked stitches from that too-tight coat,
my eyelids jimmied open by the blue
crab claws unknotting fascia from nerve tissue.
The pigfish dribbled flesh. I heard the shoat

grunt his hunger. Gold and silver coins
hissed on the waters. What I saw was scales
falling from the mermaid’s dragon tail.
I dipped there where the human woman joins

the salty furrow closing round my cries.
I was her husband. She was no one’s wife.
Her broad flukes stirred the waters into life.
Her sequins pressed pale half-moons in my thighs.

No. Three weeks I drifted while our banns were read
to the bell buoy’s hammering angelus.
Calm nights the stars fell. They lay like spread
petals on the waters over us.

No. Calm nights the stars fell. They lay like bread
upon the water till the dawn wind blew
the seabirds ravening after them, and drew
the plumes of whitecaps crashing on my head.

Waves smashed Atlantis back to pink-grained sand.
The moon is both a grinding wheel and knife.
But we were lovers in a former life!
I held her crescent scepter in my hand.

Martin Edmunds’ first book, The High Road to Taos, won the National Poetry Series. His work has been anthologized by Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes and has appeared in The New Yorker, A Public Space, The Paris Review, Little Star, Grand Street, The Nation, The Partisan Review, Southwest Review, and Agni. Awards and honors include the “Discovery”/ The Nation Prize and an Artist Fellowship from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. He was an Artist-in-Residence for many years at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, where he wrote verse plays and libretti for Cathedral productions. He also writes and co-writes screenplays, including an adaptation of a Balzac story for a feature film from Roland/Fine Line, which earned a National Board of Review Award for Special Excellence in Filmmaking.

Petra, Jordan first appeared in The New Yorker. Ocean first appeared in Agni.