Books by Dionisio D. Martínez


[click on a cover to read a selection]

New work & collaborations
Books, excerpts
Contemporary American Poetry
Norton Poets Online


Climbing Back
Climbing Back
(W.W. Norton, 2001)
Selected by Jorie Graham for the National Poetry Series

Bad Alchemy
Bad Alchemy
(W.W. Norton, 1995)
Included in the New York Public Library's "Books to Remember" List
History as a Second Language
History as a
Second Language

(Ohio State University Press, 1993)
Winner, Ohio State Univ. Press/The Journal Award
Dancing at the Chelsea
Dancing at
the Chelsea
(State Street Press, 1992)
Winner, State Street Press Chapbook Competition

click to hear poem Listen to the author read "The Prodigal Son: Still life in slow motion"
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The Prodigal Son: Still life in slow motion

A blue decanter for the birds of paradise. He thinks they are actually birds and when the water evaporates he doesn't say the flowers have wilted; he tells you, instead, that the birds have died of thirst. This is as close as he comes to a vision of heaven though it's less than mythical, and fragile as a hollow bone. He hopes to find—days later, when he returns—the various components settled, like an argument. A blue decanter because the vase, Cézanne-green, is cracked; or because the stems of the flowers are too large and it will not occur to him, who thinks they are birds' legs, to trim them. Why not tulips, then? Or weeds, when a small assortment of these will do just as well? He tilts the empty decanter as if to pour, as if to demonstrate and witness the difference between pouring and spilling.

—for Cecilia Denegri

©2001 Dionisio D. Martínez

The Prodigal Son investigates the Hemingway suicides

And the list goes on. Like a parody ahead of its source. Sometimes the wreckage leaves no traces. A series of grinding halts picks up the trail where stepping stones have given in to too much walking. So the dots can still be connected, the distances covered without interruption. Sometimes the scrap pile is a small bruise; nevertheless, we insist on calling it an eyesore, calling it as if it could respond the way a dog responds to a note so high it crawls unnoticed into our ears like an intruder who ransacks the house while we sleep. We insist on calling it an eyesore as if it were something you could grind down just by rubbing it. Eyesore: not denoting something visually unappealing but calling attention to the pain of a strained cornea. Sometimes the clues are overwhelming, the narrative laid out like an abandoned city. This street this block this house this door this room this wall this nail half-driven into the wall as a preface to a photograph a watercolor a scapular that mistakes the nail for a neck this nail anticipating a hat a belt a memo a key ring a necktie whose width provides a context where the scene can be wedged. Sometimes dislocation is all it takes to anchor a hunch to a fact. He finds a voiceprint in his own ear and teaches it to speak. Leaning on the word parapet , he looks down the length of his vertigo.

©2001 Dionisio D. Martínez


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It only takes one night with the wind on its knees
to imagine Carl Sandburg unfolding
a map of Chicago, puzzled, then walking the wrong way.

The lines on his face are hard to read. I alternate
between the tv, where a plastic surgeon is claiming
that every facial expression causes wrinkles, and

the newspaper. I picture the surgeon reading the lines
on Sandburg's face, lines that would've made more sense
if the poet had been, say, a tree growing

in a wind orchard. Maybe he simply smiled too much.
I'm reading about the All-Star game, thinking
that maybe Sandburg saw the White Sox of 1919.

* * *

I love American newspapers, the way each section
is folded independently and believes it owns
the world. There's this brief item in the inter-

national pages: the Chinese government has posted
signs in Tiananmen Square, forbidding laughter.
I'm sure the plastic surgeon would approve, he'd say

the Chinese will look young much longer, their faces
unnaturally smooth, but what I see (although
no photograph accompanies the story) is laughter

bursting inside them. I go back to the sports section
and a closeup of a rookie in mid-swing, his face
keeping all the wrong emotions in check.

* * *

When I read I bite my lower lip, a habit
the plastic surgeon would probably call
cosmetic heresy because it accelerates the aging

process. I think of Carl Sandburg and the White Sox;
I think of wind in Tiananmen Square, how a country
deprived of laughter ages invisibly; I think

of the Great Walls of North America, each of them
a grip on some outfield like a rookie's hands
around a bat when the wind is against him; I bite

my lower lip again; I want to learn
to think in American, to believe that a headline
is a fact and all stories are suspect.

©1995 Dionisio D. Martínez


For the text of this poem, accompanied by the
paintings of Humberto Calzada, click on image:

Go to "Flood" and paintings


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What Your Mother Will Not Sing

That she's been holding you like a prayer,
imagining your head here, your fragile
spine on her forearm, your lips
drawn to their first drop of milk.

That she loves the fluent silence with
which you've spoken all these months,
the vision of the world you must have now—
this perfect world light years from
the one you'll share with her in spite
of what she will not sing.

That it could have been jazz, baroque,
a country ballad, Stardust,
Blue Moon
. It could have been
or should have been Bob Dylan on the stereo.
She might as well remember it like that:
always just enough of the last
light in the room when Visions of Johanna
fades, begging for more.

That she had other visions,
but don't we all? Doesn't the local baker
dream of making wafers for the Church?
Doesn't the atheist,
in his weaker moments, dream of living
in sin with the baker's daughter?
Trouble is, he doesn't believe in sin
and it takes a good sinner to make
a dream as solid as a loaf of bread.

That your fingers grow into fists
inside her, begging like songs.

That you beg for whatever semblance
of a song your fingers
can scrape from her silence.

That it takes a hell of a heart to say
that there's nothing to sing.

©1993 Dionisio D. Martínez


Dionisio D. Martínez: Dancing at the Chelsea

Ravel : La Valse

—Ida Rubenstein in Paris

Promise me everything
promise me the rain
the dress that falls like rain
the wine that stains the dress that falls like rain
the shoes that announce my entrance everywhere
the black carriage
the horse that pulls the carriage down the Champs Élysées
promise me the Champs Élysées
a flower from the man who speaks no French
who sprinkles water on his roses
promise me
trees that fall like parasols around an empty house
the emptiness of the room you left for good
the key that has no lock
the rust from the knife you never use
smoke from a candle going out in a café
wax from the candle
spilling like a name I'm always forgetting
promise me the coffee by the candle
the coffee going cold
the cold that swept through Europe last winter
birds in winter
frozen bridges
the mist in the distance
promise me distance and wind
promise me stories
books that begin with the wrong word
a verb that has no past
incense from the church that hears no prayers
prayers from the church that has no incense
promise me a sky as gray as incense
the life of the woman who wants to be another woman
who wants to drink your wine and wear the dress
that falls like rain
who wants a flower and a carriage
and the key that has no lock
the woman who wants the empty house
smoke from a candle
birds in winter
stories and a verb that has no past
promise me her life or any other life
but give me nothing if you can't make this night
go on for days

©1992 Dionisio D. Martínez