Hustle. David Tomas Martinez. Sarabande Books. Louisville, Kentucky. 2014.
"Calaveras" is a long poem in eleven parts and I've chosen the very first poem of the sequence. It could just as easily been any of them.
David Tomas Martinez makes it look easy. These poems are unadorned and bursting with beauty.
A car wants to be stolen,
as the night desires to be revved,
will leave a door unlocked,
a key in the wheel well
or designedly dropped from a visor.
A window will always wink,
to be broken by bits of spark plug
or jimmied down the glass.
This is mine.
Where is the window to break
in your life?
In a backyard off the 94, I demonstrate on the moon
how a dent pulled ignition and a toothbrush for a turned key
easily swoon the inner workings of a Ford.
Push the dent puller in,
turn the triangle, burrow the screw,
and metallic light falls in twirled shavings.
Before I snap the weight I say
nobody gets caught with this,
not because this is a felony,
we speak of prison inevitably,
as likely as sweeps and raids,
as common as falling.
Prison, for us,
taxes and deaths.
Nobody gets caught with this
because I took it from my grandfather's tools.
To shoot someone we needed a gun;
Albert said he could get a pistol but we needed a car.
That's how, at midnight, on a Tuesday,
we strolled down the street with a dent puller
trying to murder a man.
Not wanting to steal a car
from our neighborhood,
we take alleys we shouldn't,
until cops chase us across
eight lanes of freeway and backyards.
To get away, I ran in a canyon
and a field of cactus.
The needles ripped my clothes,
left spiked fruit behind my knee;
with a knife wet under a garden hose,
I cut away skin and spines.
With arms around my boys' shoulders
we walk home, but only I see god.
It was the Lord from his La Jollan gates,
the big white man in the sky hollered at me.
In pale distance and omniscient beard,
in sky clouded with open azure:
No murder this night for you,
nor any night for you,
only a hot bath and plate of papas fritas
from a grandmother's hands
and four hours of needles
shooting from the skin
and holding the faucet like a gun.
I am immediately drawn to poetry of this sort. It is from the streets and the heart and there is no artifice. Martinez writes intricate poetry that rattles off of the page and tongue with inspired elan, but it is never cliche or tired.
In the wood shed
I found my uncle's magazines.
Snooping out of boredom,
looking for a wrench
to loosen a question in my body,
I flipped along glossy women
in kitchens without sinks
and refrigerators without food,
where bored housewives released
fucking the plumber,
where gardeners were pulled into pool houses
by college freshmen, their pig tails
doing most of the raking;
I saw women and horses
and women and circles of men
and women and women.
There seemed to be no shortage of women.
Being eleven with the drain pulled
on my wondered lust, my eyes
began to see sex everywhere,
in the plunging of stopped toilets,
in gas tanks being filled, in the pool halls
where my father circled his cue.
How the world moaned and pumped,
and hope flashed fluorescently through the blinds.
I lost my virginity three years later
to a girl without a name,
a neighbor in my curiosity about the body.
Before we did it, she said,
I don't make sounds during sex
and she didn't, just waited blankly,
waited to have emotion scribbled on her.
Eventually, love marked me
with a woman who walked with tumultuous hips--
she made bathrooms and classrooms more exciting,
and proved old Walt right -- the body does
electric -- when a kiss jumps the body --
as love is the leap of moment suspended
between jumping and landing, learning
and knowing, quitting and starting again
and it hurts more than just in skin,
to walk because your walked away from,
and no hurt scatters, no love vanishes,
and no sorrow dissipates or forgives,
and no words can be eaten.
Nothing can be eaten.
And her climbing up a balcony on the second
floor to break in through the sliding glass door
to leave, on a puffed pillow, music she made for you
wont screw back together what was shed.
No one wants to leave the comfort of wood,
or finally say goodnight. I wish the world
had left me cuddled with boxes and magazines,
with boxed wine and videos of Vegas.
Can another cigarette break keep
the shell of sleep from cracking,
stay the flashes of her bent under another man?
Wondering if she is across the country, or the street,
how can I stop her monuments, not hear her again?
Whoosh, good lord, Martinez is good. These poems have weight, great substance, but they are never too heavy or overbearing.
Think of the best of old Tom Waits ballads like Romeo is Bleeding. If you knew me you'd know that in our home and around the Today's book of poetry office that Tom Waits is a deity of the highest order. He's always been a crazy mad priest poet of popular music. So when I tell you Martinez is worthy of Tom Waits' praise please pay attention.
The orange coveralls flamed around me in one-size-fits-all,
and no matter how I stood, they slouched and bent me.
In the shipyard there were no mirrors
but in the ocean's reflection or the pools in the dry docks
I could see how the leathers covered my boney clavicle
and my arms were only as wide as my torch.
I interviewed in a flower-spattered rayon,
but was hired because my uncle was foreman.
In training, I met Lucy.
Straightening out the crooked cuts in my bulkheads
she showed me how an orange stream pours off a perfect bevel.
Once in the bilges, I asked what brought her
to the bottom of this boat, measuring and cutting walls.
Pulling off her suede glove,
wiping sweat and ash away,
on her hand shone a green 13.
Secretaries don't have tattoos,
muffled through her respirator.
And by lunch,
we were burnt by sparks,
by three we sneezed black,
but the foreman flirted with her
using the last banging mallets
to get close and whisper.
from our torches,
on our neck, metallic dust
ignited in the sun.
The top half
of her coveralls,
unbuttoned and wrapped,
slowly melted down
as the whistles blew.
I worked on frigates,
she worked on tankers,
I walked by her worksite
and Lucy'd be cutting
a tanker's wall,
of rusted pipe
shaking the wind,
shaking a hole
in my coveralls,
from ankle to knee gone,
the thin blue cloth gone;
I watched Lucy rise.
Hustle by David Tomas Martinez announces with authority the arrival of a dynamic new voice in American poetry.
David Tomas Martinez
David Tomas Martinez has published in San Diego Writer's Ink, Charlotte Journal, Poetry International, and been featured in Border Voices. A Ph.D. candidate at the University of Houston, Martinez is also an editor for Gulf Coast.
"David Martinez is like an algebra problem invented by America — he's polynomial, and fractioned, full of identity variables and unsolved narrative coefficients. How does it all go together? And what does it add up to? The speaker in Hustle roams the kingdoms of experience, from stealing cars to explaining post-colonialism to his Mexican grandfather, from celebrating sex to wondering about the crippling mixture of strength and weakness in the men around him. Martinez's poetic voice sings story, talks wisdom, and verbally switches between the sophistications of the academy and those of slang. Out of these trespassings and travels, he makes an original, wise, and tender poetry. Hustle is full of dashing nerve, linguistic flair, and unfakeable heart."
David Tomas Martinez
Border voices 17, part 3