Martin Hill Ortiz, a native of Santa Fe, New Mexico, is a professor of Pharmacology at the Ponce Health Sciences University in Puerto Rico where he lives with his wife and son. A score of his short stories have appeared in print, anthologies and online journals. His sixty-page poem, Two Mistakes, won the Tom Howard/Margaret Reid poetry award. He was a finalist for the 2020 Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize and appeared in this October’s Dodge Poetry Festival. He has authored four mystery thrillers, most recently A Predator’s Game (Rook’s Page Publishing). Along with his scientific background, he has worked in theater, having run a comedy troupe in South Florida.
Sermons from the Backyard
Let those disillusioned Re-illusion themselves,
reimagine the world.
Reality is for those who can not imagine.
Reality is for the insecure,
a bargain made by the winners
to make their winnings more important.
Reimagine the world, that ball of clay beneath your feet —
you who are so cock-fired certain of your balance —
step longer step quicker the roll of the ball has the purpose
of the fire of the coming time
And in imagination bring the new creation of place-cum-time
of expanse-cum-infinite or at least-cum-several points of now
scattered in the skewed universe each point inhabited now,
the moment of salvation, now the day of judgment, now the end and
beginning and begin again this sphere of time.
Lose your balance before the, again, end.
The mission is to take the plane to Lisbon,
to join me at the Casbah
I don’t know what that means but nothing matters except anti-matter,
the anti-sense codons, but don’t you see,
we’ve allowed the blueprint to become more important than the building?
I have been sent to correct this, to resurrect that, bring life back to life
shout to the deadwalking Lazarus: live again, you fool, you’re starting to stink!
— Stay with me, I’m nearly making sense.
The Falwells believe they own the syndication rights to God.
I’ve come to warn you: God can not be beamed,
His aether can not be pulled apart,
teletransported, and reassembled.
like in the morality play, The Fly, the genes of God have been mixed with the genes of the Super Bowl.
You may think of televangelists as being God’s comic relief
but they are dangerous.
The noise and colors of mediatronic monsters have crowded out
the only way that God can be communicated,
what the virus has stolen from us: Touch!
Go out and tell no one. Touch!
Bring that moment of creation, orgasm, impregnation, birth!
Get off your knees!
Don’t whisper in God’s ear — bite that ear!
Words are not wisdom, the tickle left behind by words are the wisdom.
Words make importance out of nonsense
but the world is already too important.
There are no rules.
I went up to the mountainside where I received the Zero Commandments. God said,
there are no laws, you idiot!
haven’t you been paying attention?
Love! That’s all.
Strive to be adequate and because God grades on a curve,
you’ll get an A.
Poetry is what we don’t-don’t say and since, for most of us, there is more of what we do-don’t say, there’s a lot of poetry being wasted.
Don’t let unspoken words stick to your lips like lipstick stuck on a one-way mirror as you look over life and lust after life until afterlife is all that’s left over, leftovers again?
If you walk to the horizon it will run from you
Keep pursuing it
until you grow taller than the sky
until you can straddle the frowning world.
Today, be neither overwrought nor underwrought
But, instead, find your perfect wrought.
Know where your head is, k-nowhere.
No wonder there’s so much wonder
No one dares count back from infinity to the finity to the fine italics, too fine to find the meaning demeaned by dimensionless dementia, did I mention? how the lightning words sparkle beneath our thumb pulse pulls us inside, inside out and there outside our skins beside us full-blown and flushed unincorporated
Did I mention? Bodices of goddesses, bodkins bare and sheathed in condoms, inconsequential copulations, come, let’s explode a moment together come-come now, that’s one small step for humans, one giant leap for the rest of us, and three steps backward for those who cry “Baba-louie!” while waiting in line at the DMV, the demilitarized vehicle zone:
O-zone can UC? The radical oxygen is disappearing and we in our too-perfect skin will die from the too-beautiful sun.
Don’t wear furs! Wear live animals! Before it’s too late and it becomes before again.
On the Importance of Persistence
It’s very hard to poke out your eye with a felt tip pen,
What We Lost When the Storyteller Died
She could lift an elephant with her eyebrows,
And circle the moon with a swirl of her finger.
The stories of our lives became real,
Breathed into life:
Flesh to flesh,
Lips to ears,
Soul to communal soul.
She made us incarnate.
She was and is our mother
In the way everything is more than nothing,
In the way a pendulum holds on to time
Even in its stillness.
This page bleaches the ink as I write,
Sterilizing the words.
No eyes meet,
No lips quiver.
Written words are half a voice,
Documents of estrangement,
Like eating recipes.
This page will never bleed,
Not even if written in blood.
With the storyteller gone,
The poet and the reader
Have wandered far from their tribes.
A keyboard here, a touch screen there.
An anonymous scream,
A casual cruelty.
This electric life,
Thinner than paper,
Thinner than a shadow,
With each ruler in a private kingdom
at the furthermost points of the planet,
The fist becomes so distant from the bruise.
of starlight and parasites
Even at night, this road sweats
ladled over with a heavy breath
dredged from the sour of the swamping canal
that runs its length
and entwines its body.
Twisted together like twin parasites,
feasting on their mutual wounds.
The night is made from neglected sores.
Or else the night is the bandage to those wounds,
swaddling and soppy with the blood of stories
and drenched with the balming oil of midnight
salving the pain-pricked eyes of heat-blistered days.
Abandoned buildings with their shuttered eyes
sit hunch-shouldered, Sagging with the weight of dreams —
How much do your dreams weigh?
As much as they cost.
How much do your dreams cost?
More than I can pay.
Abandoned buildings with their shattered eyes
Their wisdom gouged out
Stars flesh in and fill out their fractured lenses.
Let me explain:
The tiny reflected specks of heaven outline
The teeth of the star-shaped wounds.
a brief treatise on the spontaneous generation of life
Awakened by the kerosene smell of emptiness,
wriggling free from the husks of rotting drums,
maggots breed in the gullet of tar,
molt and take wing and take on
the cathedral-tall street lamps.
Swarming and zipping the buzzers
unzip the shameless night.
The lady of the night looks down
with tar handprints on her gown.
Buttered by lamp-rays
she has lampreys drinking from each tit.
Never sleeping, never awake,
she has the nodding sickness.
Her veins are a racetrack
where dizzy corpuscles run round and round,
her recycled blood forever trapped
in a doesn’t matter life.
Oh well and oh hell
to raise consciousness you must be conscious.
The bubblemen swing their nightsticks,
walk their beat,
tenderize the night (like meat)
and blow off a little steam or else
commit random acts of consistency.
This street is paved with pterodactyl still stuck in the tar.
So, the Lord brags to his drinking buddies:
with spittle and a little mud, I could make a man.
Let me complain:
if sweat and grime were a clay, even I could sculpt a man.
Heck, with this much muck and toxic waste
and a quick peek at Darwin’s notes
even the sewer could grow an opposing thumb.
An infant crawls across the busy road
his umbilical cord looped around his neck,
his leash strung back to the uterus
tethered to its motherland.
The night lady soothes him with lullabys
— Rock-a-bye baby,
The bough’s gonna break,
The cradle will fall,
You’re gonnabe one flat baby.
a brief explanation of the symbols to this point
The sidewalks and the buildings are symbols:
important, enigmatic symbols.
Believe me, the old man says, when I say that human beings are good.
– Good and tired.
It’s only the grinding gears that bring the worst to the top.
– And the hamburger to the bottom.
It’s a Monopoly game where whoever robs the bank wins.
– Keep going. . .
on how truths keep multiplying when all you need is one
The street exclaims its name
disemboweled, its visceral shriek rising out from the anguish out of its past,
but shouting to deny its past.
Its red palms read:
a lifeline split by the crease of fate.
The intersecting roads have long forgotten their marching orders:
First, Second, and Third Avenues and on and on
Only they know how twisted their grid has become.
The sidewalk preacher proclaims:
“All of night is shame.
Shambling in her inky cloth,
ambling with her arms outstretched.
Wanting to raise hell and lower heaven
until the two should kiss.
The doorman rumbles to life:
“There is another story to these buildings,
That old-fashioned kind of history you just can’t buy nowadays.
There’s another level to this story, with floorwalkers stomping over someone else’s ceiling.”
The silence has the eloquence, but no one listens.
There’s so much more silence here,
more than meets the ear.
So many have truth, so many half-truths,
if you added them all together, they’d still be less honest than your hunger.
You know: Hunger is the inside information.
Hunger in the pit of the swollen belly but also in the deeper pits
You only want back what was nibbled from you.
The traffic noise ate through your eardrums
like an earwig
which crosses your eyes
from behind your eyes.
Oh-oh-oh, I haven’t a dream and I haven’t a prayer
but I do have athletic shoes,
like the miracle of the loafers.
Serving up loaves in place of sermons:
To foresee the future
to foretaste its feast
two four eight. . . (and on and on)
and how truths keep multiplying when all you really need is one.
the usual casualties
Immortal children play cops and robbers.
Immortality means as solid as a slab of sidewalk
where you once engraved your name
and stung a heart with an arrow.
B.K. loves E.K., R.I.P.
Your own private slice of heavenstone.
God is an absentee landlord.
No, give the Lord a break:
He certainly knows how to jive
At the midnight service at the neighborhood temple.
Jiving with the Lord kept me alive.
The landlord is an absentee landlord,
now I’ve got it right,
sitting in his penthouse outhouse.
Accruing with interest
a crude disinterest.
His tenants liened,
their tenements lean, too;
their lean-tos are the usual casualties of casual usury.
Oh well and oh etc., you can’t build skyscrapers and not expect the sky to get scraped
and let clunk down a piece or two.
Time was and now time is lost.
Let me explain:
poverty is a pain-in-the-ass thief
stealing your days as you pray they’ll hurry by until your next paycheck
and then soon as it comes it’s gone
and then you’re praying for the next one to arrive
until your life is fretted away
in exchange for a miserable handful of days.
amusements at the arcade
This street is zoned for twilight.
The bubbleman beats the dreamer (beats loitering)
beats the drummer.
And the tom-toms howl,
and the tomcats yowl,
and the bumpers buzz.
This machine is called virtual reality.
Virtual like a saint,
reality like things you bump into.
It’s like bumping into a saint.
It’s a religious experience without the hangover.
It answers the great philosophical questions of our time:
Yes-No, Yes-No, No-Yes, Kapow, Kapow.
An extra ball.
The game is named Jacob’s ladder
only it comes without the rungs.
Jesus Christ! Jesus et cetera
I swear I know well enough
to leave well enough alone but. . .
Someone bores a drill-hole in my navel,
fills me with dust,
tamps down the powder,
plugs in the fuse and lights it,
then blames me for exploding.
Whoever can blame the loser wins the game.
a dream for my readers as they fall asleep
Just as I pass the finish line I’m told
the starting line has been moved back.
So I’m running down the road again.
But before I know it,
I’m running from the road.
It crawls after me like bunched-up carpet,
inching like a cutter worm.
It seems easy ’nuff to outrun but whenever I stop to breathe,
it catches me,
nibbles at my heels,
invades my gasping breath,
steals the vowels from my lungs.
Soon I mumble-mmbl
or just to hear my voice,
and I’m awake alive and sweating
and it’s still night.
Even at night this child sweats.