Me and Martha

I began the Martha Courtot section of This Frenzy accidentally—there was a poem of hers that I loved, “Lesbian Bears,” and hadn’t been able to find for years and years. When her family and friends issued her collected poems after her death I finally had the poem again so posted it. There was nothing about Martha on the web, so other people looking for her began to find me, including Martha’s sister and her daughters.

Then other women who had Martha poems that were precious to them began to contact me, with stories such as “We used a poem by Martha at our commitment ceremony 25 years ago and I can’t find it now—could you find it and post it?” And so a Martha Courtot online community began to form here.

More on that in a bit—but first this amazingness:

I’ve been buying copies of Judy Grahn’s The Work of the Common Woman for years now. Until last year her poems had been out of print and unavailable, so I regularly scoured used book sites and ordered copies, most of which I’ve given away. The last copy I bought this way sat on my shelf for a year or so before I opened it one day. There. at the top of the title page, was written “Courtot.” Could it really be a copy Martha had owned? It seemed unlikely, so I dreamed about it but set it aside. Then I “met” Martha’s daughter Thea via the blog, so I scanned in the page and sent it to her.

Then I waited. Only a few days, really (much less time than the 7 months or so that passed between my idea and my walking the book to the second floor of my own house to scan it in!). But now I was Actively Waiting. As in Judy Grahn’s advice “Love comes to those who wait actively / with their windows open.”

Yesterday I heard back from Thea. “Yes,” she said, “that seems to be my mom’s signature, and she signed EVERY book.”

Wow. Just wow. I have Martha Courtot’s Judy Grahn.

Now, back to the collecting Martha’s work. Julie Enszer, over at Lesbian Poetry Archive has asked me to work on a page about Martha and her work. Martha’s daughter is sending copies of her poetry chapbooks which Julie will scan to make beautiful online editions. I’ll work on an introduction talking about what Martha’s work meant when she was writing and why her words still matter to women, to lesbians, and also to the broader world of American poetry.

I’m not sure yet what exactly I’ll write for that, but I definitely want other “Martha and Me” stories – how have these poems affected you, how have they lived along with you?

I’ll see where that goes, and post more as I get into the work.

Signature on title page

Amazon in the land of oranges—Martha Courtot

i am a woman in ice
Martha Courtot

i am a woman in ice
melting

piece by piece
slowly
i am divested
of the cold cage

sharp as glass
the splinters fall at my feet
do not cut yourself

when i listen
to the trains wail
i can feel
through underground caverns
of stalactal promises

the earth
full and steady
under me
move

i never thought
i’d love the sun again
but now my fingers move
in a panic
of wanting to be burnt.

The Lesbian Bears

The Lesbian Bears
Martha Courtot

here they have not heard of lesbian bears
if they knew they would be afraid
they would form a vigilante party
to hunt wild perverse bear in the mountains

at night while they slept in the open
they would dream of unnatural acts
in brown fur
a female bear would come
wrapping her lustful arms around the bodies
of all the women
then they too would be lost
is this where lesbians come from?

I have seen lesbian plums which cling to each other
in the tightest of monogamous love
and I have watched lesbian pumpkins
declare the whole patch their playground
profligate and dusky
their voices arouse something in us
which is laughing

ah, everything is lesbian which loves itself
I am lesbian when I really look in the mirror
the world is lesbian in the morning and the evening
only in mid-afternoon does it try to pretend otherwise

and when the lesbian wind flutters the leaves
of the bright lesbian trees
sending golden shudders of delight
through the changing lesbian light
the sound which is returned to you
is only an echo of your own lesbian nature

admit it you too would like to love yourself
and each other
now, while the vigilantes
wander the mountains
now is the perfect time

embrace the one nearest to you woman or child
apricot, salmon, artichoke, cow

embrace yourself