What to Tell Martha by Alan Feldman

“Do me a favor,” said Martha. “If your walk’s
better than ours, don’t tell us.”
A steep uphill with more expansive postcard views
each time we stopped for breath. We could see
Vesuvius, not erupting, across the bay,
Martha and the others too small to make out
but easy to imagine, up there in ecstasy
on top of the cone of ash. Our day?
Harder to describe, downplayed or not.
Back yards full of lemon trees. The smell
of grapes, or, occasionally, a hog.
The flat silver shine without a horizon
of the Bay of Salerno from St. Agata
at the top. Tired legs. A lunch
at a trattoria. The kids
horsing around, their dad cooking,
their mom the waitress. Italy!
So loamy and ancient. The path
down not too exhausting. At the end
we did the Stations of the Cross
from a shrine, counting backwards
till reaching town. What to tell Martha
when she gets back from Vesuvius?
You can’t sell your life to others.
She chose the big mountain, the peak experience.
Like hanging by yourself from the chair lift
on Capri, that Martha swore put her in touch
with the gods. Or like the rainbow she saw
(though we didn’t) from the bow of the ferry.
Nothing life-changing in the route we took,
if such change matters, since Martha’s returned,
and based on what she spotted up on the mountain,
steam escaping from deep inside the crater,
we’re definitely due for another eruption.
Then the best route won’t matter––
only finding each other inside those clouds.

# # #

After teaching at Framingham State University and Harvard’s Radcliffe Seminars, Alan Feldman began offering free, drop-in workshops at local libraries in Framingham and Wellfleet, MA. Many poems in Immortality (University of Wisconsin Press, 2015), are based on assignments he gives in those workshops, and have been featured by Poetry Daily, Best American Poetry (2011), Writer’s Almanac, and soon in Ted Kooser’s column, American Life in Poetry. Tony Hoagland featured one of his poems in Twenty Poems That Could Save America. Recently he’s taught poetry writing on cruise ships going to New Zealand and around the Horn of South America. He has have a sailboat, but no pets, and is married to artist Nan Hass Feldman (nanhassfeldman.com).

Photo credit:  Terri Malone


Leave a Comment