Rita Maria Martinez
She's nestled by the window. She's light as a celery stick. Nothing between them but this scarlet shroud. She wants to wedge her flesh between the folds when he parts the curtains and snatches the volume. The beloved picture book, its shores of Lapland, Siberia, Spitzbergen, Nova Zembla, Iceland, dangles from his hands like a thirsty meat cleaver. She flies toward the locked door. The text poised in his grubby hand like a hacksaw—teeth glittering like his eyes when he decapitates doves in the yard. His dragon breath hovers above her. Bewick's History soars across the breakfast room, a Chinese star slicing her scalp. Fire spews from his nostrils. She's splayed across the carpet, a bird rending its own plumage. On the back of her neck, blood sizzles; she smears it beneath her eyes like war paint. She flaps her wings in the dragon's face and claws her initials across his arm. Her beak gleams through the smoke. The breakfast room splattered with feathers, scales and ash.
She crawls beneath the garnet couch, hides like an abandoned rag doll, like the missing clasp on her favorite dress, a base coat of nail polish, a clitoris, lice latched onto a stranger's hair, like a solitary sock, the nipple capped by a child's mouth, a penny, her uncle's letters ripening in a drawer like wild berries, the mattress cowering beneath its Marseilles comforter, like termites crunching the mahogany vanity, sinking their teeth into chairs carved for the benefactress, sawing through the rash between her toes as she rubs her feet across the crimson carpet again and again trying to smother an invisible fire, to stamp out spirits seeping through the barred windows, the brick chimney, the bolted door, dead relatives draining the spark of her thoughts—their fleeting brilliance diving off the lip of this crater, this exile among rosewood jewel caskets, blushing walls, and sanguine shadows.
Treacherous slate, cold slab for math sandpapers her chilblains, slips through her fingers, becomes a soft-bodied lamprey glissading before Brocklehurst's feet, the Holy Moly instructing everyone to blacklist her, to treat her like a Jane Doe, but she's so nervous and pitiful, she pees until her skirt is a wet wash cloth, fears he'll slap her forehead as if banging a jammed cash register, make her kneel on a bed of rice—instead he orders her to the stool where her totem pole body wilts as droopy Lowood girls sitting at their desks upchuck shillings, deposit them up the math tutor's nostrils until she expectorates soda cans for everyone but Jane, who's still on the stool, watching equations writhing on chameleon chalkboards that stampede out the room, while cold air sweeps through the open windows tempting her to scratch her itchy scalp, her alert nipples, her tired ankles staring at the tarnished buckles of her Mary Janes, rows of MJ's nailed to the ceiling, walls, floor, oh she fears those innocent shoes with slick foreheads, hollow necks, and gaping mouths will drown her in their parched throats.
I read Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre at sixteen. The novel struck such a deep chord that I wrote a series of poems based on its characters and events. This triptych deals with humiliation, suffering, and confinement. The boxy prose poems serve to reinforce Jane's sense of alienation and entrapment. As with revisionist fairy tales, this triptych appropriates the original text as a springboard and enabled an exploration of fear and mental instability in the face of danger. Parts II and III were an experiment in surrealism.
The spiderback chair faces the fireplace.
Eyes closed, head bowed, arms
She tosses the stolen candle
Flames like Spanish Town sunsets,
Your mandarin voice resonates
as three separate pieces, I placed these poems side-by-side and felt they
worked stronger as part of a larger whole. Though these shorter pieces
are not sonnets, I was searching for the same type of compression often
found in sonnets. Unlike some of the more "modernized" Jane
and Bertha poems I've written, I wanted these to be infused with a sense
of Gothic mystery.