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Martha Stallman

Martha Stallman’s work has appeared in the James Joyce Quarterly, the Joyce Studies Annual, The Offing, Electric Literature, and Playboy. She lives and writes in Austin, Texas.

Minneapolis Minnesota, May 30th 2020, 8:17 pm

Most of the spray paint says “Fuck 12”
Or “ACAB,” but
When the camera pans right
To follow the cops
Who are beetling forward
To crack heads for freedom
(or whatever their slogan is)
On the concrete they’re mounting is
“No towns. No structures.”
And how could I not think of you?
Or when I consider
The softness of meat
In those crunchy black shells, and
How that thought
Would be thought
To make me feel tender
Towards this swarm I see swarming
But doesn’t?

Before we left my hometown,
You gave me a camera.
And I quickly enraged you
By wasting the flash bar
On pictures of nothing.
But I didn’t want photographs anyway!
I just wanted the flash bar
That thick row of unmelted ice cubes
Cracked and dirty
With only one use.
A break you can’t paint over.
“You wasted it,” which was reason enough
For everything after.
And once my face healed,
I could again eat
The dark meat chicken parts
You brought home from work
Or the garbage.

At the crack of dawn, I would get up and run
To the house next door
(which was vacant)
And grab the boxes of books
Or exotic meats
That I’d ordered dishonestly from catalogs
And told you I’d paid for
By pawning my camera
(which you had to have known was a lie).
“We’ll paint the town red!” you said
Which meant I got booze.
My reward for making this
A nice Christmas.

Meat rots into roadkill
When you leave it uncooked
For too long, and hurt is the same;
It goes septic.
“Forgive your abuser” is something you hear
From people who live
On the other side of the camera
In a nice part of town
With lawns that stay mown to a specified height
And homes painted tastefully dull.
What nonsense!
Crack the skin of that phrase, and you hear
“Let it go. Was it really so bad?
Let it go.” and “It’s your fault.” and
“Don’t tell me.
Don’t make me a witness.”
Still, you are.

Cameras don’t make truth,
They see it. The paint doesn’t
Heal wounds, it hides them.
Don’t turn away.
The air smells of spoiled meat and smoke where I come from,
The people too scared not to hate you.
Don’t turn away.
I remember my voice cracked the first time I went
To a pawn shop and begged the man there
To buy what I had, and
He shook his head “No,”
And turned away
When I started to cry.
If a man won’t protect you,
He’s no friend of yours.
If a town won’t protect you,
Burn it all to the ground.
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