The Works of Martin Willitts Jr

Martin Willitts Jr won the 2014 International Dylan Thomas Poetry Award for the centennial. He has 20 chapbooks, and 8 full length collections of poetry including How to Be Silent (FutureCycle Press), and God Is Not Amused With What You Are Doing In Her Name (Aldrich Press). He has been published by Seven CirclePress many times including his full-length webbook, Constellations of Memory and Forgiveness.

All Poems © Martin Willitts Jr

Almond Branches in Bloom, San Ramey
Based on the painting Almond Branches in Bloom, San Remy by Van Gogh,1890

"There is no blue without yellow and without orange." --- Van Gogh

The white flowers indicate a sweet nut
I devour as oceans of blue sunsets

dormant during winter,
a yellow poem waiting to bloom.

The orange sun opens sunflower petals,
yellow mist pulsates on leaves.

I find a blue that is impossible,
sighing names of things to come.

The mailman could hide letters in his blue whiskers.
Each letter opens as sparrow eggs.

The orange cobblestone streets are alphabets.
Nuns gather them into schoolchildren reciting by rote.

Your words migrate into my heart.
I am not so lonely when you write to me like this.

C Is For Cause and Effect

You never know what will happen,
if you do one thing, another might result.

Take for instance, you are driving
unaware, suddenly black ice, a deer
careens across your windshield
like a maddening pinball, you over correct,
pump brakes intensely, forgetting
the rule of turning into a skid, spin
recklessly like an ice dancer,
a telephone pole becoming a magnet,
the taste of grocery lists on your tongue
suddenly meaningless and important

the only thing you do not think about
is what you had for breakfast,
how toast was slightly burnt,
the eggs were not over easy,
orange juice had too much pulp,
you were running late, again

how you forgot to say goodbye

I Remember When There Were Four Blue Moons

The woods had glowering eyes.
Fish in their small still voices, were praying.
This was when I was young and foolish, in love.

There is nothing new anymore.
The singular sun is bored with my anguish.
As I get older, it is to see more misery.

If I challenge this, the contentment of the bluebells
will be everywhere, rapid streams of orange light
will leap from my tongue.

In the Defense of Doing Nothing


I can avoid a lot of work 

but movement is always constant 

whether it is blood or 

earth or clouds or eyes 


white asters have taken over 

during the moments 

between breath 

moving from lungs to air


am I worthy of such observation

while clouds are reverently weeping

upon the dark curls of the kale

and the framework of my silence


I find an acorn hat a squirrel planted 

it is lacking its bald head 

now it will sunburn 

like my own monk’s spot


tomorrow I will find more not to do

it will require much patience

like the time between equinoxes 

or goldenrod deciding where to toss sneezes


Learning the Hard Way


There are learning moments we are given

to explain to our children

facts we do not understand ourselves.


Like: when the cat brings in a limp blue jay,

plopping it like an offering; or,

when his friend died without any reason;

or, when police fired into peaceful protestors

with rubber bullets and tear gas; or, when

he saw me planting bulbs early fall.


He recognized immediate connections.

Facts scrambled into place, reality shifted.

He had moved from childhood to adult at ten.

How does a parent explain complex, simply?

There were no easy answers, no shortcuts,

no simple reasons, Problems accelerate,

branch out. We try to get to the root of problems.

We need a good shovel. All life intermingles.


Saying, it is God’s plan, does not answer a child.

Answers do not overcome natural curiosity.

They have a “why” for every answer. You dig deeper.

We can spend our whole life trying to answer,

but we never know all the reasons ourselves.


He wanted an answer like the cat wanted to bring birds:

Why can’t my friend come to play anymore?

Why are people cruel to people? Why sadness?

Why do you plant seeds knowing they could fail?

Will I die someday? Why is it necessary?


I had no easy answers; only hard words.

Words with no promises;

concepts impossible to unravel. But I began.

Leonardo da Vinci Drew Hands


His hands sketched until they remembered

what hands really looked like.

He studied the angle of perspective.

Noticed how it never looked right.

Noticed distance and nearness always distorted.


He wanted them to look real.

Real enough to reach out of paper

and grab you by the eyes, make you notice

how hands could hold sadness,

or juggle life and death.


He drew until the hands were not strange.

They did not appear from out of nowhere,

or out of a body, or out of music,

or out of focus, or out of a pair of roses,

or look like birds flying out of perspective.


Then he let his drawings of hands

hold a pencil, diagraming new reality:

machines that could fly; the axis

inside men; canons.

Leonardo touched these drawn hands.


Out of the paper a hidden lady emerged.

Leonardo rubbed his hands over her

to make sure she was real as the clamshell

she stepped out of naked. Naked as a loss

no one can stand seeing anymore.

She smiled with a half-smile of mystery.

She removed his hands, turning them into air.


Leonardo realized: sometimes, you cannot hold

what does not want to be held.

His hands still held remembrance.

Her skin felt like sunshine and beach sand.

Her veins unstrung into sad notes, raining.


How much loss can anyone hold?


Movement in Hands


When we die, the last movement

is involuntary. We cannot wave away death.

Death confuses it with come here.  


Hands uncurl from fetal positions,

snails leaving shells, moving light.

Try to catch light before it dies.


Intention is to keep moving.

As long as there is motion, we are alive,

holding love like it was air.


Motion is what doctors look for:

A heartbeat; a smoke screen of air;

a tempo; a saxophone cry of help me;


a flinch when tapped on the shoulder —

a sign, any sign: a Morse Code of breath;

a hand grabbing what remains.


Opus 6


Expediency is not possible,

but time is turned around and sent back

to the bachelor trees

abandoned by birds of all kinds. Kindness

is not possible. Change is not possible.

Retribution is not possible. Only acceptance.


Among abandoned miracles, nothing

takes precedence. It is not a hunger-strike,

or a protest, or call for attention, but rather,

unfulfillment, a dazed memory

evocating sequences of voices from afar,

feeling up close and impersonal,


Precise words chase the elusive lyric of silence.


Opus 24


There is a kind of dense-fog presence

smoke-screen found in minds,

peels, slowly, at memory,

the kind of forgetfulness of a migrating bird

losing direction,

the terminal absence of who-we-are

until nothing remains of what-used-to-be.

Pictures of our past

tumble loosely out of the photo album

of our hearts; then loss

nibbles, taking everything of passion.


I have seen their past shuffling with walkers.


Some people, all they could do was cry,

knowing something was wrong,

something amiss, but unclear

what the heck it could be.



Over fields of planted suburban houses,
cracking whips of frizzed blinding light
leave patterns of shadows of our former selves
plastered temporarily on stucco walls.

Fixated on the lawn,
twisted, broken telephone wires sizzled like bacon.

Father wandered in our dazed house,
how sins were packed away in suitcases,
how no one ever sees retribution coming
until it comes.

Based on the painting Young Mother Sewing, Mary Cassatt, 1890

The mother is concentrating on her stitches
staring into the eye of the needle
stitching a pattern into a darker sun.

Her daughter has been tugging at her, moaning,
irritated at the lack of attention.
The mother does not notice this calling,
small as threading the path through the woods.

I understand this concentration.
When I am in the middle of writing,
you can talk to me and I will respond, still typing
stitching a thin veil of words.
You could rest your impatience on my lap
and I would not notice.

It is the same as you gardening the last frost.

When someone is embroidering silence,
all anyone can do is watch.

The mother was hemming the horizon to the sky
while her daughter tugged at the seams to be noticed.
When one is concentrating, the other tends to be ignored.
This is the way things are.
We can only sew so much into the quilt of the night
while someone impatiently waits.

The Beachfront

The clouds have decided not to form
into something dramatic. Everything is
foreshortened. The seacape is slower here.
The distance extends further than we can see.
Two boats are abandoned on the shingle.
The waves are static. A few sailboats
in the coldness, are detached, in indecision,
as to returning or turning their sails into wind.
The air is nonchalant, willing to go wherever,
without determination, much like us
when we cannot make a decision.
On the other side of the inlet
is the spire of a church no one is attending.

U Is For Undertow

There was an undercurrent to her description.
The undertow almost took her.
She left a part of herself
with flux of water and life. A seaward return
had broken against shore and now it was breaking her.

Water gushed out of her when rescued.

How was it to let go? How it was to returned?
One was shallow, and the other backwash.
Water was affluence, and dry land was not.

She regurgitated her story into seawater.

Now she longs to return to that release into the conflux ---
where sea shells and tortoises still have not surface.
She understood the overflow of drowning.
She knew how it wasn’t so bad after all.

Forget dust to dust---
it is really water to water.