Two Poems by Martin Willitts Jr


As I sit in the room of my mother’s grief,
my father’s unused chair remains mute,
holding inside its arms his absence.

My mother keeps me in her head,
refusing to let me go
where the goldfinches are active at the feeder.
So, I listen like a mourning wall, as she wails
from the deep well of sadness.

As a child stirring mud
freshened by a sprinkler can of water
trying to find the right consistency
I wanted to create a mud pie for my father’s desert.
In the background, birds were doing rounds
like they taught at school,
how and when to enter after one group is finished
with layered waves of music. Even now,

in the present, I think of goldfinches
taking turns at the feeder, row
after yellow row. I wait to speak
when my mother’s sob subsides and crash
against the shores of the room.

I recall the pride offering my mud pie,
leaving muddy palm prints on the doorknob,
tracks of brown footprints on the carpet.
My father looked down like a curious god,
so that his glasses slid to his nose tip,
and declared it was too perfect to eat.

My mother bawled louder, a nose-honking sob,
declared she didn’t want that story
or to remember the yellow birds dancing at the feeder
and how she had to purge my clothes, and plunging me
fully dressed in the bathtub, and wait
for the water to stop being coffee colored.

I thought the story might make her smile a crack,
but I made the sadness worse.

The door to my mother’s grief
locks me in shadows. I feel as useless as dad’s shirts
empty and drooping in the closet.

Even a deer, far away, in the woods
beyond the train tracks, holds its breath
afraid to exhale, not move so jerkily, not to stir
the silence.

Silence is that empty birdfeeder, and the way it sways
when the birds realize there isn’t any more.

I sit and listen to the sadness gather steam,
a train barreling down the tracks. I sit
in my mother’s grief room,
and I do the only thing I can do:

I listen.

The next thing I know,
my father’s ghost sits on the chair.


Talking to My Brother

Now we are talking, like forever,
as long as weather finds the impossibly still fields.
It’s long past time for talking like this,
although we are as quiet as the wind.

It takes a while before the conversation can begin,
before it can ever end, so the silence stretches
long and far as breath to reach a far dandelion puff
or the sun chasing the moon’s skirts.

We are below the wheeling of starlings,
punctuating the quiet with their etchings.
We have to begin somewhere. Someone must talk,
or the lack of conversation will swallow us.

Perhaps we should start somewhere, say the weather
is becoming more unpredictable,
and connect it to how we need to be connected.
But that’s not what happens.

We grow old in our uncomfortable feelings.
Regardless, another day will come and pass
if we say nothing about the gap of years.
I must talk or this meeting is wasted.

I start. We begin talking, like forever.
This is how to rekindle love. One step forward,
two awkward step, three easier.
There are some bridges to mend, now he has cancer.

This is one of the tools. For you see,
there is a different kind of love for a family member
when you had to pass plates of mashed potatoes
or sit in a tent outside telling ghost stories.


Martin Willitts Jr is an editor of Comstock Review. He won numerous poetry awards. His 21 full-length collections include the Blue Light Award 2019, “The Temporary World”. His recent book is “Not Only the Extraordinary are Exiting the Dream World (Flowstone Press, 2022). Forthcoming is “Ethereal Flowers” (Shanti Press, 2023).

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