Four Poems by Martin Ott


Dead Man Lying

The difference between life and death
is the same broken line between truth and lies.
Time defines both. History holds the mantras
of liars and recasts them in our history books.
The walking dead has never been about zombies.
Our reporters hurry to unearth time machines
before the damned redraw the circles of hell
in play dates, budget gridlock, and club queues.
These are not the droids you’re looking for
and other mind tricks of shimmering ghosts

are as real as tweets and posts on your feed
even as you hunger to please those who
ignore you most. We can pile on each other,
in flaming ripostes or a pyramid of mirrors,
our views bouncing to and fro in a super
collider of like minds. Hives are molded
to keep when minions drop and towers
are draped in gold. The dead man atop
the pyramid holds his rot aloft on a flag
pole and belief in the position he holds.

The Nation Can Only Weep

But not the golem on a podium
protecting a statue, his finger
scraping the camera-lit sky.
Did we create the animatron
or did it spawn us in its image?
The original programming was
to control the weather, to make
rain the banks divert into streams
that funnel offshore and stir up
monsoons. The eyes have circles,
white orbits bronzed in fool’s
gold. Hatred pours like a fountain.
We cannot avoid the splash.
The tears in the fabric, on it.
Unable to sleep, our eyes speak.

You’re Fired

The man who drops the axe on many heads
may not have giant hands. He was always
there with us, an empty suit with elongated
tie, a scarecrow we stuffed with dissonance
and disgust. The man asked if we would pledge
loyalty, but we are not expensive toys to be fondled
and destroyed. He tells you that you are rusted
and he can find the oil to free you. The man launches
flying monkeys and writes his name in the sky,
on buildings, in a binder that you hope does not
hold your name. He wants to send you packing
if you disagree, if you were here first, if you’re sick
and infirm, if you remember how things were.
The man who yells you’re fired on the big screen
is the same as the man who yells at the big screen.
He has yanked back the curtains himself,
a dragon that has willed itself into existence.

American Id

Now has a voice. It warbles
with a flag pin on its lapel,
a face the hue of radioactive
decay. Its baritone was once
a whisper whipping in sails,
ghost ships of dying empires,
drumbeats of preachers hewing
trees, land parting like the sea.
It buzzes on miniatures screens,
an insistent pecking in pockets,
until we tune out the vibrations.
The manifesto formed in a pot,
a blood soup of empire building,
bubbling over in river’s tongue,
a language now deemed foreign.
Words spew above a giant red
tie, flickering a lizard’s desire
to warm itself in insistent light.
Cheers and jeers are the same
to the man who would be king
breaking a country into crumbs
and calling it endless bread.

Martin Ott is the author of seven books of poetry and fiction, including Underdays, Sandeen Prize Winner, University of Notre Dame Press and Spectrum, C&R Press. His work has appeared in fifteen anthologies and more than two hundred magazines, including The Harvard Review, The North American Review, and Prairie Schooner. Twitter: @ottpops  Blog:  Site:

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