Marty Cain, Kids of the Black Hole


Excerpts from Marty Cain’s poetry manuscript, Kids of the Black Hole, a finalist for the 2015 TS Book Prize.


this is my confessional poem
this is my poem which rises from the dead
this is my poem which eats lesser poems
this is my poem to exorcise myself, to save myself from myself
to satiate my hunger for my own flesh
my poem a mother bird
my poem who puffs out her body in pouring rain
my poem with its maw & its cawing babies
I have spent ample amounts of time trying to cover the young
my poem pissing on the body of business
this is my poem turning ink to blood
this is my poem which is buried alive
which sings through the holes of light in the soil
it is swarthy in here, the poem says
it is swarthy & I feel moisture through my flesh
my poem a worm halving itself
my poem informed of the life beneath
my poem which fell from an elm, was singing unconscious
with thump in the belly, which sprouteth wings
which discovered the self through bodily slaughter
which drains blood from the body hung up by its ankles
which stands up dizzy watching unhinged planets
my poem in a horse’s mouth with hilltop thunder
my poem of shaking panes & electric hunger
poem of blackness / of the ruptured cranium
poem like a copperhead eating air
poem which I saw in the tarn when I saw my face look back from the water
It’s easier inside, the face sang back
it sang in the half-hearted thump of iambs
it sang like the elderly making love
it sang to lambs surrounding your bed
this is the poem in which I dip splintered feet
in which I numb the sleeping sight of myself
this is my festering ink on endless whiteness
this is my poem banging its head on the door
this is my screw being yanked from decades of paint
this is my poisonous poem which lives in the lead
this is my poem gracing the ancient headboard
I dreamed of fucking
I dreamed of the dead
I heard the screaming sisters of the sacred well
I dreamed a child grew inside me
I woke to teethmarks & vomit in hedges
I woke with a murmuring woman in my chest
this is my summerpool poem with musclemen floating
the storm cloud throbbing like a promise in the dark
this is my storm beneath my nails
this is my poem pluckèd of feathers & blood
this is my last poem
this is my poem like a festering wall
this poem is the place where runaways stay
this poem comes from grass & is piss from the stars
this poem in the stairwell with buzzing fluorescents
this poem with the balcony over the plaza
how you close your eyes
I imagine your plummet
your body over seven stories staring down
your body testing the weight of inertia
the weight of the tethers that keep you blue
& in a body, you hear hot wind blow
you lean in with your ribcage on the railing
& see your true self escape your mouth
then the limbs all ragdoll down
the shoppers in the plaza look over their shoulders
it happens too fast for thoughts to form
& none of them see the force that leaves you
you’re a flurry of bats now whistling out
you leave your lips & join the air
in a wrangling sea of strewn-out clouds
& mosquitoes sucking in light of the moon
I’m with you in the homestead
I’m with you in the homestead
where we were in our sleeping bags
we were like slugs in the dark
you showed me hatchmarks on your arm
& one of us was drunk but it wasn’t me
I said, You need to see someone
you said, I already have
this is my last poem
you ran your hand along my leg
I fell asleep
I woke with you on top
you were breathing hard
Hold me, you said
you pressed my sternum
you pushed me down in the dirt
you tried to kiss me & I shoved you off
this poem is sap from broke branches sighing
this poem you read sad in the sideview mirror
when you drove one hundred miles an hour
for one hundred miles, for you drove to Boston
for these characters are closer than they’ve ever seemed
for this poem like ants in the hairline crack
this poem which sees cities make quilts of light
& the humming hills of green that are left
& the livestock whose brains are not yet mush
with the sheep so sure of who they are
it zooms in slowly
it cannot capture the gaping frame
& the camera pans after you as a dot on the freeway
through Chickopee & Holyoke with endless shriek
it zooms in slowly
my dreams are a dolly
your dot growing larger as you weave through traffic
& I see your red Volvo’s dented bumper
my dreams a mirage through the sun roof upwards
the hole I once stood through while you were driving
& I waved my hands in the international symbol of distress
I had to duck when we neared a bridge
my dreams see you with one hand stuck on the stick
one hand on the wheel with one finger tapping
but the radio is off & it starts to pour
you commence the wipers
you switch on the brights & pupils dilate
I zoom into your wrinkles
I search for a focus
I blur for a second & then become clear
no one knows just what happened
no one knows why you veered left
or why you were swallowed in the traffic current
no one knows what you thought of when you saw the lights in the other lane
whether or not you wanted to die
my camera zooms out before the collision
& I dream a firecloud beneath a truck
I dream your body ejected from the driver’s seat
ushered up through the sunroof with arms outspread
you leave the flames
you leave the highway
you leave the land & take for the river
you hit the water & sink to the bottom
& get swallowed in the basin
you get cradled in mud
& the fishing boys all see your spirit
when they stare at the crappie that they unhook
on the sun-baked dock in blackfly July
Got one, they say & smack them with paddles
they see your eyes
they see voluminous black in the unblinking iris of fish
they are so unsettled they toss them back
& your transmuted soul then floats on its side
the wind picks up
the mosquitoes go crazy
I’m learning how to see again
I’m learning to be an eyeball floating in space
for I never saw you die
I only imagined your projected death
this is my elegy to serve myself
my filmy membrane over truth
I have been birthed into this world
I have been born exactly thirty-eight times
I was born once screaming from my mother’s body
I was born again when I learned to speak
I was born when I read the cereal boxes
I was born when I met my nubile body
when I felt a thrum hum through the heaving gaps in my ribs
I was born when I walked aimless in the northeast woods
like Link without a fairy or a green felt hat
I rescued the princess from myself
I was born when I masturbated in my bed
& the night was a tunnel filled with lights
or a glacier melting on my steaming chest
I was born when I saw the kid next door
brandish his Red Ryder, he shot a chipmunk
Got the fucker, he said
(he was eight)
I saw it stumble & cough up blood
once the boy was gone I took the body
I stroked its tail & set it in the river
on a boat I made with a paper sail
I was born when I turned seventeen & jumped the motel fence
when it was dark outside, we swam in the pool
I saw the screaming moon & lights & joy in the water
my lungs burning as I neared the surface
I was born at the homestead when you had a concussion
you hit your head on the coping & started laughing
I don’t belong here! you said, ha-ha ha-ha
I don’t belong in this world!
for you were always a sleeptalker
& you started bawling that you wanted to be home
but we were in your yard already
I was born when you took me down to the tracks
& we dug a hole in the side of the hill
we made a cave beneath the rails
you said, Lie down like a man
O I laid myself down in the earthy hole
I felt a rumble through the metal
I felt crumbling soil
I felt a rushing wind & thunder
I saw a blackness fly above me & my chattering jaw
I was baptized in dirt by an iron god
I was born in a grave, I reside there still
at night when I dream I stand right up
I stare past the dirtmound, kick in the sides with my steel-toed boots
I feel it collapse & I float above it
I become a dandelion ghost now shearing wheat
I am many ruptured currents of varicose rivers
for to live outside the law you must be a fucking horse
& you must wing your way beyond the fringe of the sun



Marty Cain was raised in Vermont, and received his BA from Hamilton College. He currently lives in Oxford, Mississippi, where he pursues his MFA, edits Yalobusha Review, and hosts the Trobar Ric reading series. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Minnesota Review, Action, Yes, Dreginald, The Journal, Rattle, NightBlock, and elsewhere. Kids of the Black Hole is his first full-length manuscript, and it was recently a finalist for The Song Cave’s open reading period, as well as a semi-finalist for the Kathryn A. Morton Prize.


My book-length poem Kids of the Black Hole is about what it means to be a teenage body in a rural space whose bones are constantly protruding, whose bones foreground the act of sweating and throbbing within a frame: the narrative frame, the gendered frame, the Arcadian frame, the frame of the Black Hole in southern Vermont where the mother fox roots through garbage to feed her young. My poem believes in the young. (It hit puberty poorly.) My poem is a Minor Threat, and was routinely beat up in the high school bathroom by the son of a cop who was high on narcotics. My poem is driving around in the rain after cross-country practice in its mother’s Prius listening to Deep Step Come Shining on the car stereo. My poem made me an Arcadian / a Kristevian. My poem wishes to cross its own membrane, to remove its own innards splayed on the kitchen counter quivering excessively in light like boundless fawns or flowers. I laugh in the face of your virile bodies. I laugh in the face of your virile bodies.


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