Amelia Martens - Purgatory is one stop past The Twilight Zone, a constricting landscape where the threads of daily life tighten around you; a place where your car keys are made of construction paper, your house explodes, where you’re trapped under arctic ice in a one-man submarine wearing itchy wool underwear, and where the telescope only takes Sacagawea dollars

Amelia Martens, Purgatory, Black Lawrence Press, 2012.

"Purgatory is one stop past The Twilight Zone, a constricting landscape where the threads of daily life tighten around you. If "Hell is other people", then Purgatory is where you must sort through the baggage of your own life while trapped in a one-man submarine. These prose poems present a landscape where nothing is quite right, where the details conspire in irritation."

"On my first tour through Purgatory, I thought, this isn’t Purgatory, this is Hell—a place where your car keys are made of construction paper, your house explodes, where you’re trapped under arctic ice in a one-man submarine wearing itchy wool underwear, and, (my favorite), where the telescope only takes Sacagawea dollars. But, on my second trip through Purgatory (two trips aren’t enough—each of Purgatory’s self-contained poem/paragraphs glitters with facets and shifts shape every time you take it in) I saw the light: Amelia Martens hasn’t described our place of Eternal Punishment; she’s described our Testing Ground, where we’re endlessly paged to the white courtesy phone, compulsively choose door #3 (our quarreling parents), and patiently stand in line holding out our hands for our ration of sun and quiet. A tour through Purgatory is a tour through our shrinking universe, where we’re getting squeezed—oh, it hurts!—but fighting our way through to enlightenment. Kafka would have loved Purgatory, and so will you." — Richard Ceci

"The immediacy of these poems will make you sweat, and shiver—it’ll make you look over your shoulder a bit. You are in these poems—every one of them. Martens forces you to be there, throughout. It tastes like Windex. It’s cold. You hear cowboy ballads. You see things you can’t believe, like thousands of chickens, flipping through magazines. It’s a lot like a movie. The universe grows smaller every day. It’s true. Just when you think you’re anonymous: just when you think you’ve been forgotten, Martens makes things more alive than you ever thought possible." —Micah Ling

"Amelia Martens' poems in Purgatory are dazzling, strange, spiritual, funny, and moving. Shimmering and skittish she whittles an almanac of apocalypse and praise. These poems burn and shine. Martens skewed vision and lyricism delights, haunts and reveals the world." —Catherine Bowman


You are under the Arctic Circle, in a one-man submarine. Your nose itches, but there is no way for your hand to reach your face. You are wearing red wool long underwear made by a woman named Elsie who lives outside Portland, on the corner, in a small yellow house next to the church. She knits these union suits during the months that end in y. Elsie’s husband was a lumberjack, until the fire of ’05, and she makes every suit his size. Her hands move together like dancers, practiced in the art of sharing space. This intimacy is exactly opposite of the compression you feel inside this metal tube, as Elsie’s loops tighten around you.

They replaced the switch with a dimmer. You lie on beige carpet, the color of champagne, and the black phone sits next to your head. Every fifteen minutes it rattles and the ringing moves through your skull and goes to sleep deep in your brain stem. The voice on the other end of the line is, always, your mother. It’s midnight on the West Coast. She says your father is sitting upstairs with a loaded .45. She says she loves you—good night. The line goes dead, but her slur stays there, a ship, in the bottle of your head.

There are six days until Christmas. Your car keys are made of construction paper and you can see the glitter glue used to connect them to your key ring, as they swing from your ignition. You are standing in the mall parking lot. Your car is on and locked. When the first reindeer falls, you turn just in time to see the antlers crack as the head splits open against the icy asphalt. Two hundred and sixty pounds of meat; a faint heart beat pumps blood out across the white lane lines, towards the shopping carts corralled for safety. When the second one falls, you are laying on your belly, underneath your car. You suck exhaust so deeply in, you think the blank eyes staring from the passenger side look just like dice.

The telescope only takes Sacagawea dollars. The air conditioner is stuck on high and hung from a cord in the sky. You are allowed to press your face against the glass, but it always tastes like Windex. Somewhere in your ear a dryer spins pockets filled with change. The rotation of the drum makes your head into a gumball machine being shaken by earthquake hands. In a phone booth offstage, your mother continually calls your name. The plexiglas around her is spray painted with gold stars and capital A’s. Snow falls on the hour, but it looks like feathers. You watch them sway all the way to the ground where they mix with what must be, what must have always been, blood.


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