Carolyn Martin

It’s in the cards


The self-righteous dead
can’t figure out
what went wrong. 
No matter what cloud
they hang around,
there’s a Black Saint,
Muslim Angel,
or Jewish Scholar
dancing down the sun.
Not to mention women
at the gate
mansions for eternity.
Why this messed-up state
when they stood firm
what they thought
the Good Book said?

in this New Jerusalem,
Jesus in his phylacteries,
Mohammad in a three-piece suit,
and Buddha in sandals and shorts
play Texas Hold’em
under a blooming apple tree.

Mary passes by
with bread, wine, and koans.
Athena keeps an eye
on counted cards.
And a puckish Pan
tunes into NPR’s report
from earth below.
Disparate Christian sects
share worship space –
warily, a voice explains –
above the Holy Sepulchre.
Nothing here to shake
a Bodhi tree until,
The keys to this church
are entrusted
to a Muslim family.

The card sharks
catch the spark
in each other’s eyes.
Mary claps one hand.
Athena loses count.
Pan turns the volume up
to cover groans
cannot suppress.





A modest star
waits in silence
a cityscape,
what might have been
if it were a dandelion,
a hummingbird,
even a fly
scrounging plates
after dinner guests
have gone.

What’s the use?
it complains to
a passing cyan gem –
when its spurt
of light
leaking through
the random universe
is stunned
by sky-glow
and no one
for a dream
to offer it a wish.



Marx Was Right


History repeats itself
as tragedy,
then settles
into farce.
And so was Joyce
slogging through
his own nightmare,
and Napoleon
a fable agreed upon.
Which leads me
to conclude
the last human sound
before the galaxy
consumes itself
won’t be a whimper
or a scream.
Rather, gasping stars
will hear
our groans.
as we think we are,
we’ll grasp that life
was a fidgety dream
fabulists devised
to entertain our sleep.

Previously published in Abstract Magazine: Contemporary Expressions





Are the people who live inside [Manú National Park]
good for it or bad? And is the park good for             them?
– Emma Marris, “Peru’s World Apart,” National                                        
  Geographic, June 2016

Dimes drop into the cardboard box on Sister’s desk.
For missionaries, she says, who preach Good News
to people who need to be saved. From what
or for? A child, you don’t ask. Count coins.
Wonder how much saving costs.

The photograph: wild girl – full lips,
barely fierce brown eyes, a black avalanche of hair –
floating on a river in Manú. A tamarin crowns her head.
A pet, the caption says, and she, a Matsigenka child.
Eleven-syllables in her name.

The park: saved from rubber barons,
loggers, miners, and extractors of natural gas.
Monkeys: saved from tribes that arrow-hunt.
No guns allowed. Monkeys move fast.
The forest: saved by seeds saved monkeys drop.

Tonight you’ll recycle the magazine and stack up
prayers for people who have no time for news,
good or not; who live in tree pole shacks,
in cardboard boxes under every overpass,
in piles of rags squirming in doorways.

You don’t know whom you’re praying to or what
you’re praying for. Is praying the right word?
Like saving, it mystifies. Ponder the sky
that drapes over the Manú. Wonder out loud
to anyone who’ll hear, Does saving ever stop?

Previously published in A Penchant for Masquerades (Portland, OR: Unsolicited Press, 2019)





From associate professor of English to management trainer to retiree, Carolyn Martin has journeyed from New Jersey through California to Oregon to discover Douglas firs, months of rain, and dry summers. Her poems and book reviews have appeared in publications throughout North America and the UK, and her fourth collection, A Penchant for Masquerades, was released by Unsolicited Press in 2019. She is currently the poetry editor of Kosmos Quarterly: journal for global transformation. Find out more about Carolyn at