Because What Else Could I Do (excerpt)

Martha Collins

42another beach, the last one we walkedtogether, hand in hand in the August sun,and I walked on while you rested there, and nowit is winter and I am here with almost the last of you in my hand, a tiny part of some partsof you—your hand, your blue eye, shoulder,mouth—and I try to gentle you into the sea, but a sudden wave rushes over my feet and the wind catches this partof some parts of you, and instead you are inthe air and more than before you are onme: you have met me again, you will not let me let you go, you are in the sea where you wantedto be, but you are also in air and sand and earthwhere your grandson will bury another small part—and now I lick my finger and you are in me  43as if I had swallowed the fact at lastas if the fact were a mass of leadas if the mass made a space around it as if the mass were a tiny planetas if the planet were you, your lifethe one you didn't want anymore as if what I am were in orbit around younot as a moon, but as random debrismyself in pieces, space between fact and me

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Martha Collins is the author of nine previous books of poetry, including Admit One: An American Scrapbook, White Papers, and the book-length poem Blue Front, as well as the paired volumes Night Unto Night and Day Unto Day. Collins has also published four volumes of co-translated Vietnamese poetry, and co-edited Into English: Poems, Translations, Commentaries. Founder of the Creative Writing Program at U.Mass-Boston and Pauline Delaney Professor of Creative Writing at Oberlin College for ten years, she currently lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Because What Else Could I Do is a sequence of fifty-five untitled short poems, almost all of them addressed to the poet’s husband during the six months following his sudden and shocking death. Perhaps best known for her historical explorations of sociopolitical issues, Martha Collins did not originally intend to publish these poems. But while they are intensely personal, they make use of all of her poetic attention and skills. Spare, fragmented, musical even in their most heartbreaking moments, the poems allow the reader to share both an intimate expression the poet’s grief and a moving record of her attempt to comprehend the events surrounding her loss.

"Collins captures the variations in the voice of grief: confusion, despair, irony, and talismanic attention to small details. These poems are stripped and spare; they read almost like erasure poems or like listening in on the poet talking to herself only half aloud. . . . This small book urgently and unflinchingly captures the shock and reverberation of unexpected grief."
—Barbara Egel, Booklist

"Musically brilliant, psychologically intricate, movingly humane—Martha Collins is one of our most vital poets."
—Kevin Prufer

"A longtime poet of sociopolitical engagement, Martha Collins has been mining the complexities of language and syntax for wordplay, precision, and multiplicity like no other contemporary American poet I can think of."
—Wayne Miller

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