Fall 2021, Volume 31

Poetry by Chloe Martinez
       (From Ten Thousand Selves (The Word Works 2021)

The Last Synagogue in Alexandria

An old man stared at us through the wrought-iron gate
and asked, “Jewish?”  Yes, I said, But not my husband.

He checked our passports. “Stand in the shade!” he ordered,
so we stood in the shadow of the old synagogue, elegant

and empty in its gated grounds, its gardens. An even older woman
came along speaking French, hunched, black-skirted, bright-eyed,

looking us over. Ahead of us on the stairs she gripped the rail,
panting on the third step, “The sugar, how do you say? Diabetic!”

Inside, cool wooden benches, pink granite columns. She sat
in the front row while we wandered—“Wander!” she said—

under hanging lamps, high round windows. Who comes here?
we asked her. “Sometimes,” she said, palms raised helplessly,

“many come, other times, none. Only three men are left
among us here, and five women.” When we were done

I gave her ten Egyptian pounds. “I’ll put it right here!” she said,
and tucked it in her shirt, beside her left breast, and laughed.

“Your husband, he is Muslim?” she said to me as we left.
“Well, all the religions, they are the same, no?” We nodded

and shuffled out past two dogs inert in the heat. The high gate
chained again behind us, we walked to the Corniche and looked

at the sparkling sea. There were the blind fishing-boats
with their painted Cleopatra-eyes, their patience as endless

as their loneliness. When the wind blew, they turned together
in silence and watched the horizon for some omen, some sign.


One minute, we were sitting in the many-windowed hall
listening to a lecture on George Herbert;
the next, snow flying behind every pane.
If today were an acrostic, it would read, amaze.

One minute, snowflakes melting on my hat;
the next, dark branches dipping under the
wet weight of crystals, sun shining through
in confusion, bright blue pieces of sky—

I had forgotten there could be seasons;
then you and summer arrived blazing green.
One minute, a small hunger-pang; the next, blackberries
shining among the thorns beside the road.

Mandala of the Nature Center Sleepover

There is pizza. The fish that ignored us during the day
now seem to take an interest. Maybe we imagine it.
The sea horses are holding hands with their curly tails.

There is one small octopus asleep in a rock-cave,
eye closed, mysterious heart-engine pumping visibly.
There is a craft project. A scavenger hunt.

The children and their adults wander back and forth,
the moray eel opening and shutting his mouth
in a terrifying corner, and then we notice the octopus

has awakened. She curls and uncurls, tentacle-cakewalks
across the glass wall, then rockets herself through the water,
and the way she moves doesn’t say escape or hunger,

though once we see her false eye-spots glow
bright blue as if (her label says) under threat,
but that color fades, and she goes on far beyond easy

explanations: a dance of being alive in a body,
a dance of the body alive. The octopus is
unlike us. The octopus is more like us than we

can explain. What I mean is, the multiplicity
of her suction cups! Unimaginable! And yet
right here before our eyes, the truth: beauty.

We stand in a semi-circle before her tank,
watching for as long as the octopus chooses to move
us. We stay quite still. Fallen silent. Seen.




BIO: Chloe Martinez is a poet and a scholar of South Asian religions. She is the author of the collection Ten Thousand Selves (The Word Works) and the chapbook Corner Shrine (Backbone Press). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in AGNI, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, Shenandoah and elsewhere. She works at Claremont McKenna College. See more at www.chloeAVmartinez.com..