Herbert Woodward Martin: Poems

Mr. Martin needs no detailed Southern Legitimacy Statement, he has graced our website before today but I do want to include this: “I am a Southerner by birth and tradition. I was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1933. I send these pieces to you for your considerations. I thank you in advance for your time and consideration. with a handshake in thought, Herbert Woodward Martin.”

The Young White Boy’s Question.

A Small reminder
the grey brown moss
wafts on Southern poplars
like disembodied souls
hanging as a lesson of a
particular death suffered.
The sun brings temporary
relief of an occurrence
that took place long ago
on the cusp of a night
somewhere, a distant memory.
A young white boy inquires:
Why don’t you guys get on with living?

I try and give him the best black answer I can:

We are too busy mourning death in these trees.

–Herbert Woodward Martin


Watching Ken Burn’s The Roosevelt’s: An Intimate Portrait,


ignites a memory of a time when we listened to FDR’s voice 

before the evening’s fire as his words burned confidence in

my parents and the nation. I was still very young when 

WW II occurred and had to help hang crazy quilts over the 

windows, gave each pane a black eye, as we huddled against

a practice air raid dark. Not a spark was to be seen from the sky.

The wardens of daylight patrolled the neighborhood to make 

sure every citizen followed orders. When daylight arrived, 

I used my fruitful ingenuity to scourer the neighborhood roads 

and pathways, even the dilapidated plots, searching for rusty nails,

abandoned metal: the heavier, the more profitable. I was doing 

my small part in the war effort and getting paid by a truck driver

we called The Iron Man, who paid 25 cents to a $1.00 a pound 

for a bucket of scrap to make bombs with. When the conflict ended

and everyone rejoiced, the back alleys and sided streets were immaculate. 

Four black boys had scraped the area spotless. Noting to scrape a leg 

or trip a foot. The movies which we were allowed to attend with our largess 

afforded us a chance to see the weekly Movietone News Reels and the 

progress our soldiers had made in the effort. Our spirits were buoyed up

by victory, and then we saw the Concentration’s refugees and our emotions

were dashed upon rocks of despair. I would especially remember being 

troubled by the images of those surviving Jews: naked as a Jay Bird, 

my mother would say and nothing but skin and bones my grandmother

 would say: umph, umph, umph! What intestinal fortitude, I would later 

come to know, as they demonstrated an act of walking with a careful air of grace. 

–Herbert Woodward Martin


Depression Child

“You are a child of The Depression.”

An observation made by Ron Primeau

Cousin Lou taught: “save everything.”

My wife calls it the rat pack effluvium.

Still we saved everything:

Unburned bacon grease

Small pieces of soap,

sugar bags turned inside out,

our Sunday shoes

consigned to week day wear

when we could afford new ones,

newspaper used to layer

the worn-out soles.

The smallest thing was wealth:

paper rolled into logs,

swatches of cloth sealed

the drafts in windows,

replaced worn portions of quilts.

Our family history kept us warm,

Jelly lids were nailed against rat holes,

while the peels from fruit made jelly.

Everything had a purpose.

The Depression made us aware of :

what we did not possess,

what we never possessed:

a job for a lifetime.

Good or bad Lena Beitler always

wanted to know: did it pay? 

We never thought about

what we could do with our lives.

Anger was a shaken fist,

the bottom of which was

supposed to be Hoover’s ass.

Hard as a dime Uncle Ad. said.

He smiled thinking if we held

those tight fists long enough

Hoover would become constipated.

Communal witchcraft.

Whether it worked or not,

I was too young to know.

Still, the country prevailed

and elected a successor

who calmly advised:

We have nothing to fear 

but fear itself. 

We believed him

and went to war.

–Herbert Woodward Martin


Dry as dust 

munched daily.

scrambled eggs 

boiled like instant feelings.

teeth unnaturally chewing 

a known problem. 

Your lips are 

a confection 

of stoic sweets

 on the tongue.

–Herbert Woodward Martin         

Mississippi Observation

The moss hanging from Mississippi trees

wafts in the greening  evening breeze

without purpose or soul resembling knees.

We are bent on some purpose beyond sleeze

or prayer, to know what ancestor hangs here,

because whoever they were, otherwise square,

Time elicits circumstance and the equally quiet,

moving steadily, as does memory or debt

like the carefully grown anonymous fruit

hangs from branches, the vague remnants of hoots

of a disturbed Owl, disconnected from family,

and mourning its distinctive and terrible loss,

knowing that whatever it does, it will not see

a human being resembling anything but dross.

–Herbert Woodward Martin