Amelia Martens

Sarabande, 2016

In Amelia Martens’ debut full-length collection, The Spoons in the Grass Are There to Dig a Moat, the learning of both simple truths and complex lessons happens through the eyes of others; its prose poems operate like a series of short films with reader as viewer. In an early poem, “We Will Be Long Gone,” the speaker, a young mother who faces the usual challenges (repetition, exhaustion, a child’s constant curiosity), responds to her daughter:

Yes, your body is magic. Close your eyes please. The sun that went into your eyes, into your skin, into the ground today, will come up tomorrow. Yes, I’m pretty sure there are others. The moon is not the sun. Yes, they might be married. Good night.

The direct address and ease of diction allow the reader to imagine the child’s voice, the fleshed-out scene, piggybacking onto the curiosity of a child who wonders what’s beyond.

Within its domesticated context, the collection features recurring characters, most notably, and surprisingly, Jesus, who manifests as different versions of a familiar companion. In “Already at War,” he is stuck in traffic, thinking about the ugliness he’s surrounded by: “Jesus grips the wheel. Turns to watch shadows spread like stains across the grass median.” If Jesus battles everyday darkness, most often, he functions as the ultimate parent—disappointed, stressed, confused, but always present. Later, in “Routine,” he has a rare moment to himself: “Floating on his back in a cow pond, the Prince of Peace practices his out-of-body experience. First, his eyes close and the water climbs his crow’s-feet, up dry riverbeds, until it pools over his eyelids.” Jesus functions as a stand-in for the speaker, her way of seeing herself as both heroic and human.

Many of these poems are full of tender observations about what it means to protect someone from the world and help them grow within it, but there are also times when fears are realized: “Every day a man shoots his estranged wife in the back of her head: in a grocery store, in a mall parking lot, in her bedroom. Every day the prayers of a billion people don’t get airplay. Every day the ink dries.” This tension lives in the book as it lives in the life of a parent who protects a child and also knows the limits of that protection.