Martin Galvin



Sour milk's one, and rusty odors dropping out

of leaking cans of tuna fish. Calendars are clocks,

so are clouds, clowns, whatever makes you know a time

has passed.  A swelled head, a swollen belly,

they're clocks, tick toward certain changes.


Easy things are clocks and hard ones too. A rock's a clock,

and seeds that circle dirt and sky. A tick without a tock, now

that's no clock, but arms without heads, they are,

and water in a shaft, and hurry-canes, them too, they know

how to use the quadrants, swing themselves a wedge of space.


Wrinkles, did I mention wrinkles? The way they crunch time

in a vise and let him out a little at a time? Time's the gnome

that's locked in clocks. You won't find wrinkles on a dead man's


You look, you have a chance, next time.  Nor knee cap either,


you might not want to check that out. You take my word,


I know a clock when it's moving and when it has stopped.

Words are clocks.  They tell a time that's caught between the tick

and tock where we all live. They're always waiting, same as time,

between what is and isn¹t,  letting everything that will be become,

same as grandfathers, who couldn't stop what they started anyway.





May merriment and the sensing world forgive him

Who has forgotten how to sew with dragonflies,

who has been persuaded by his stylist

to find the bald heads of vultures lack taste,


May the air be merciful to him who disdains

The wonder of the lesser finch its feathering,

the swoop and turn, the laughing gulls,

the lazy ascent of the hawk, the sharp fall.


May he who runs his tires over the killed squirrel

for the sound, who makes a festival,

of slapping tiny bugs to smithereens,

be forgiven his abated brain


for such a being as he is is yet a humanoid.

His swelling waist, his groaning brain

mark him down as a creature cursed to hear,

and what the mirror whispers is just enough.




My Johnny ain't no rose. 

Learn him.  Don't smell him.


                    Parent to teacher at PTA, 1898


These mountain women.  Come in here, I swear,

Like wild goats and tell us how to teach their kids.


The men are just as bad, grunting and belching

Straight through my preparation.  The pigs.


I'd like to see that mother try to show a strapping boy

How to find the hypotenuse of a triangle,


Lean down to him and guide his hand

When he stinks like a stuck toilet, nothing less.


I'd just like to see her.  And the father too

Though what I heard, he has gone to the city


These two months past, taking his own smell

With him and good riddance.   Maybe I can do


What's right by holding Roddy back. Teach him how

To speak himself right clear and practice pen-


Manship.  It's more than that mother will do,

For sure.  And besides, he's big enough


To shoe a horse.  It's about time he learned

There's other ways a woman can be


Than her ill-favored ways.  I swear to cheese

Her Roddy is a boy worth keeping on


Through harvest time. At least by then he's grown

and ready for those wagons coming down the road.





There are pirates here, dressed in mufti,

men who pretend they'd slit a gizzard to slake

a vagrant thirst.  They wear deck shoes

of modern manufacture so they won't slip

on the blood from skin they shave to prove

they still can and sport blazers with emblems

of the hunt for par.  There's one, though,

who admits it all, flies skull and crossbones

at the mast of a boat that's tethered

with the others like tender goats.

He has both his legs yet, no gout, and a patch

in contempt of the IRS and callow youth

Who could never afford his pirate ship.

He keeps two women he uses to hide his age

From himself and the members of the club.


Just before twilight, he casts off and lets

the boat drift beyond the shadows of the high rises,

pats his belly, counts his pocket money,

Sighs for empire lost but not for long

Then hoists the sail as if he's free.

No trophy ship in sight, he heads

Toward the setting sun to conquer it.

He always does.  The sun bows down,

Submissive to his will, and that's enough,

Each time to turn him toward the shore

Where midnight waits, and wine, and chunks

Of boiled lobster he will pull apart for sport.

Martin Galvin's new collection of poems, Sounding the Atlantic, is just out from Broadkill River Press (June 2010). Recent work has appeared in The New Republic, Sub-Tropics, argestes, Vulgata, the Delmarva Review, as well as in Innisfree.  His work has won numerous awards, including First Prize for "Hilda and Me and Hazel" in Poet Lore's narrative poetry contest in 1992, First Prize in Potomac Review's Best Poem Competition in 1999 for "Freight Yard at Night," and First Prize from Sow's Ear Poetry Journal for "Cream" in a 2007 national competition.  He was awarded a writer's residency at Yaddo for August of 2007.  In addition to his 2007 chapbook Circling Out and his book Wild Card, he has two other chapbooks: Making Beds (Sedwick Books) and Appetites (Bogg Publications).



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