black belt


Dialogue with a Belt

By George I. Martin



I am magic:
I transform the meek and mild
Into the strong and mild.
I can be bought right out of a magazine,
Or be awarded by a master.
Either way I transform,
But transform differently.
 Put me on—
Feel the power
To break boards and bones,
Crush skulls and bruise skin.
As I girdle your waist
And exude confidence.
 (That’s what they think I mean,
But they’re wrong.
I encircle a gentle, loving soul
Who would rather caress
The inside of a lady’s wrist
Than hit hard with seasoned knuckles
Against an opponent’s ribs.)
 You and I are one.
 I wear you when I wear you not.
To avoid fighting, I learn to fight;
To respect others, I learn to respect myself;
To gain wisdom, I empty my mind.
 My meaning is universal,
But few know what I mean;
All who seek the same goal
Must do so in different ways.
 I paid the price—
Not dollars, though I paid those,
Thousands over the decade,
And then some.
But other dues I paid:
A gash (and stitches) above my eye,
Cracked ribs,
Torn cartilage and
Arthroscopic surgery
(knee will never be the same),
Bruises too numerous to count.
 Headaches, muscle aches, and
Tension at first,
Less now.
 I’m only the beginning;
I am the diploma,
But also the ticket to admission
To higher learning.
 I am the password to an exclusive club
That any may join:
Men women, children, cripples…
 My standards are severe,
But flexible,
Even as I am flexible,
In mind as well as body.
 I demand much, when I am worn,
For they expect much of me.
Not worn,
They expect less of me,
But less they will not get.
 Those on my good side,
I’ll defend to the death.
 Want to learn?
I’ll teach.
For in teaching, I learn.
I can save lives
And in so doing save my own.
 Woven from a mysterious past,
My fabric holds the secret
Of completeness.


Union Station, Chicago, 7-28-01

My baby sister,

A widow now.

My tears seep out

As the words sink in.

Joe and Jeanne,

Semi-orphans now.

Shadow, the husky,

Starting to wonder…

Where is John?

Where are my treats?

Where is that callused hand

That daily scratched my head?

In the scented woodshop

Tools stand still and silent,

All in their assigned places

On the brown peg-board wall,

As half-finished projects

Await completion, or, now,

A conflagration.

His last image,

A composite:

Faded John Deere cap,

Eyeglasses low on the nose,

Cold Utica club in one hand,

Hot-tipped cigarette in the other.

A quiet man,

Who would look away

And take a few steps

To the side

Each time he told a joke;

Whose mantra,

Buy American!

Who narrowly escaped death

Last winter

When a lumbering pine

Laden with ice

Crushed his truck

As he was driving down

Charley-Hill Road.

Miniature wood carvings,

Bookcases, tables, sheds, and

Even the entire house—

He crafted them all.

Perhaps the Master Craftsman

Needed assistance.

And so John is gone.

In memory of my sister’s husband.


         Ersatz Images

Battered, rusted, newsboy bike,

Resting on porch of Cape antique shop.

“Not on display;

Used by my son

To commute from home,”

The elderly proprietor chuckles.

I frame the rusted bike

As it stands beyond the white porch rail,

Against the even whiter clapboard siding,

Next to a worn wooden bench

And dull-steel milk can.


The image is secure.

Or so I think.

Weeks later…

Blue-eyed photo counter person’s frown:

“Sorry, light struck film.”

No bicycle preserved.

No rocking boats, no harbor scenes,

No bright blue door against weathered dark wood.

No line of friends by the banded lighthouse,

No S of beach against gray sea.

No bright-red berries along the brown beach fence.


Can I revisit?


             Independence Day


The little girl in white frilly dress

And pink shoes

Sits on the curb

Watching the parade.

Majorettes in red, sparkled dresses

Catch her eye.


A miniature Shriners’ car zooms by,

Candies flung out to the multitudes.

Crimson fire engine looms behind,

Driver looking to his left

At woman leaning over

As he tosses lollipops.

Sirens and horns blast,

Drowning out the cries of the crowd.

The frilly white dress

Flies up in the air

As the little girl picks up the candy.

Huge grill looms

Inexorably closer

As large rubber tires

Encircling spotless stainless-steel wheels

Rotate forward.

As girl meets grill

The crowd,

Frozen to the sidewalks,

Gasps and points—

Waking the driver,

Who knows his huge machine

Barely ever feels any bumps.

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