The Breakdown

by Annie Martin

2nd Place Winner

2020 Ember Chasm Review Poetry Contest

Even the thinnest skin is still a membrane 

-Sally Wen Mao


Six feet deep off the banks of august-tar

in a drainage ditch gone dry

and grassy, I surrendered

to sweatbees; implored;

Take my blood, take my body-


It felt better to feed their frenzy

than to string my             bits

across the highway; a     Pollock painting

nobody wants to frame


A hollowed-out plastic jug filled with a cocktail

of rainwater and antifreeze-

sun cooks my flesh, hibachi,

sweat is seasoning and I am a feast

for the jewel-bright larvae;

I invite them to crawl up my skirt, chew

my salt. Painted cornfields stretch for miles (and

the police officer flirts with my mother.)


The woman on the bus peels an orange, and the sticky dust

coats her shiny blue acrylics;

the night is often like this. I breathe

citrus and skin with relish. During christmastime, my father

reminds us; when he was growing up

the only thing awaiting him under the tree was a

bright bulb of Florida navel; a delicacy-

back in those days, such a tang was a fleeting and sacred thing.


Cold hotel bathroom tiles are always thirsty

for the salt of my tears. When I shrivel,

I’m only gasps and gashes. The tub cradles me, stinks

of silt, sweat, semen-

and other invisible stains. The porcelain whispers, begs of me;

Be clean, blood or nothing.


This is about heartbeats, skin, and money.

The lungs of the women who sit out back,

smoking menthols and sipping slurpees.

How ichor tastes like honey but seeps slow through the veins

(and I will never feel light again).

This is about who gets away.


A boy in my bed.

He does not understand that a rose

is an amalgamation. And why should I tell him? When he sleeps

so soundly, when his breath presses in

on the corners of this room

with such tender friction? I drink syrup

to wet my tongue, to make myself ill,

and to render the retch tolerable.


Somewhere deep in history, my father’s father

pulled the teeth from my spine, gave birth

to a generation of    doe-eyed girls

with sweaty palms and dry knuckles.

He called them angels;

In the half-light, they look like bees.

Annie Martin is a poet and essayist from Clark, Colorado. She currently studies English at Amherst College in Massachusetts, where she transferred after two years at Emerson College in Boston. She recently won the Laura Ayres Snyder Prize for a collection of her poetry.

Check out our interview with Annie Martin here.