Artwork for Jennifer Martelli's poems

Four Poems
Jennifer Martelli


We drove the denial deep
into the earth’s lips, my father and I: our eyes

held, steel girders, over my daughter
asleep on the old afghan

on the floor of his den. My breasts veined up
all blue and dripped opal—my blouse

bound and wet: proof
undeniable of my fucking. The moon

was hovering in the afternoon sky
later each day, low

past Easter, the moon’s leaky aureole
pressed up against the sky like some topless god

leaning in tight to see me. I saw kites
hanging so high, the strings

were almost invisible. I never knew
if my milk would keep

away the blood. While she napped
I read in Elle

or Vogue or Glamour about blood
taboo and menstruation

huts and snakes who wouldn’t be shooed
away with brooms. A model’s thighs

smooth and bare and on a full-page spread, crossed
mid-stride, titan fingers doing

the walking, all tanned like nail polish
like OPI Up Front & Personal bronze lacquer gloss and between

her legs, a clean white string
dangled down

about 3 or 4 finger widths,
a tiny umbilical cord attached

to up there, connected to and

tickling the insides
of her legs.

~ ~ ~

Gold Bug Bagatelle

When I learned to spell penis, I cut
two dolls from math paper, kept the girl, gave the boy

to my best friend in second grade, Lorraine, who wore kilts
with real pins and that made me love her. We had

the idea of penis, rubbed the floppy flat
couple up against each other. The silverfish and moths

were all over the classroom that warm fall, pressed
between pages of books, falling out of shades.

Our teacher’s hair was bleached as white, but her brows
were black. She wore a pin on her green wool

suit: a small frog encrusted with crystals to look like garnets
and emeralds. Her charm bracelet had gold bugs

dangling: 3 species of beetles, grasshopper, an embossed
lady bug, hornet, a praying mantis. When she motioned me

up to her desk, the bugs on her wrist played a sweet
high bagatelle.

~ ~ ~

Pomona Street

My bunny fur earmuffs were pearl gray
and maybe faux, they shone against my kitty
black hair. I wore them around my neck
to hide my nape with its little V.
At Pia’s beauty salon
in her cellar with the beehived
women listening to Petula Clark
I begged not to have it shorn into a pixie.
After, to stop my crying, Quinn the bookie
gave me something sweet on a stick.
I asked for green but got red. I asked
for my mother, but got my aunt.

~ ~ ~

Poison Cream

I’d seen the blunted arrows, the Bermuda Triangle-
shaped ones, the tri-corner hat ones, but

the only uncut cock I ever saw was Nordic.
I rode a moped down Front Street in Hamilton, ate

scones, drank vodka
had the barkeep pump the Stoli one, two, three

More! More! The Norwegian
sat at the iron railing, the one with vines painted white. He gave me

his card: his name
had ligatures, slashed o’s, like, no, no

not allowed
. He pressed his hand to my burnt
back, my arms. I asked if he drove a Volvo. Who knew

of extra skin on a man? Even my mother, on the good side
of dementia, didn’t know. So you can see why

I covered my mouth, after, when he tilted the louver blinds
to let in the Atlantic light and I saw what had been

inside of me, pink and soft as a drunk pig. He had balm
for my sore body. What is that? I asked.

Poison cream, he said, his fingers thick with cold white
menthol rub. By night, we were both off the island. Mound

of pink sand, bad magnets off Carolina’s coast: wood chests sunk, pilots,
ships, whole planes, and black boxes.

Jennifer Martelli’s Comments

I’m not sure if it’s a good thing that I had so many poems to submit to the Shame Issue of FRiGG, but I did. I actually had to choose which poems not to send.

“Tampon” and “Poison Cream” both speak to the silence around sex, sexuality, reproduction that wrapped itself around my family. I grew up with all girls—no brothers—and there was this sense of a betrayal as we matured. So, “Tampon” is a response to my milk letting down in front of my father. We both ignored my soaking wet shirt. The poem began, though, as a response to having a manicure, which causes anxiety in me! Look what happened as I wrote more. My friend told me to call it “Tampon.” “Poison Cream” was much more narrative for me, so it was a challenge. The heart of the poem is the turn with the mother, who clearly never looked to see if her own husband of 50-plus years had been circumcised (true? yes). I totally stole the “so you can see” turn from a Marie Howe poem, which I’d always admired for making the poem more conversational with the reader.

“Gold Bug Bagatelle” and “Pomona Street” are poems from my Kitty Genovese batch. Kitty Genovese was murdered in 1964; her death—and the supposed lack of help from witnesses—spurred the “bystander effect” we hear about. Kitty was a lesbian in a time when homosexuality was illegal. The Gold Bug and The Bagatelle were clubs in the Village that were regularly raided. Pomona Street was the name of my grandmother’s street, and there were a few basement hair salons (where I was subjected to pixie haircuts—like Kitty’s), and a bookie and part-time executioner, who gave us all candy. My connection to Kitty is that she looked like people in my family. Some of the poems in this “collection” deal with her murder straight on, but many (like these two) use her as a muse, or a way organize moments in my childhood.

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 48 | The Shame Issue | Spring/Summer 2016