the museum of americana

a literary review

Five Poems by Susan Martinello

 
1.

I call this our once upon a time

because our knight has fallen,
and we need rescue. Because
we are exhausted by loss,
on a ship of people crowded
with hope. Because we arrive
at a place called Castle Garden,
and what small family of Swiss women
wouldn’t like a castle––
even one with a rank harbor for moat?
Because we pass through
great wooden doors into fable
where a scribe peers over his glasses,
looks hard at me before asking my name.
I am holding my breath,
staring over his shoulder through
the open door behind him because
I glimpse the happy ending
called America.
 
 
        Predating Ellis Island, Castle Garden was America’s first immigration station, welcoming over eight million people from 1855 to 1890.
 
 
2.

Considering Liberty
        Battery Park, New York, 1886

I stand
near the castle
of my American beginning
with the lady who trains me to serve
as her companion.
Today I am sixteen years old,
and we have come
for the dedication
of Miss Liberty.
Newly assembled,
she eyes us
from her cement mount
in the harbor.
My mistress remembers
her copper arm
on display in Madison Square Park,
like the limb of a giantess
from Brothers Grimm.
Passers-by craned their necks
at her gleaming torch.
For six years she reached to the sky.
I close my eyes.
Buried alive.
 
 
3.

Noon Air Raid Siren
        Westfield, Massachusetts, 1960

I jump at the screech from the tall pole
across the street––so unlike
the whistle buoy of my lighthouse girlhood.
That warning sound on foggy nights saved
ships from staving rocks and lulled me
to sleep with a lowing
we called Mother Ann’s Cow.

Now, down cellar, I smooth the iron again
over the sleeve of my husband’s shirt. The TV
screen rolls a few times before Love of Life
catches and carries on. Are my children
hiding under their desks at school?
Did I put an opener in the cupboard
for the stored canned goods?

Sunlight leaks between curtains
at the high well windows—curtains I made
from heavy fabric. They say to take shelter
in the cellar in case of nuclear attack.

My father once told me
it’s the water trapped beneath the surface
that makes the mournful buoy whistle.
 
 
4.

Barcelona Apollo, July 21, 1969

balmy evening
with friends
sated on paella
pitchers of sangria
first-time headiness
gravity defying
walk to the dormitory
commotion in the lounge
students crowd before a small box TV
Apollo 11 someone says
a certain apollo Ramón
springs to mind
I sink to the floor
two astronauts bounce
like kids on the moon
gritty image, grittier voice
subtitles in Spanish
this sublunar body
itself a traveler
too tipsy
for awe
 
 
5.

Laws of Geometry
        Madison, Alabama, 9/11/2001

the angle of
        a plane
intersects
        a four-sided polygon
our geometry teacher
        hasn’t guided us through
plane geometry when it
        explodes solid geometry
again and again and again
        on screens
in every class even
        in Spanish the translation
does not change the proof
        plane crashes into tower
today I walked into school
        stomach knotted
by a presentation
        for English class
on a book
        solid object I now
hold against my heart
 
 
 
~ ~ ~

Susan Martinello lives in Gulf Shores, Alabama. Her poems have appeared in Grandmother Earth, Birmingham Arts Journal, POEM, the medical journal CHEST, Connotation Press, 2nd & Church, Number One, as well as Whatever Remembers Us: An Anthology of Alabama Poetry, Panik Anthology, and Nancy Drew Anthology.