Three Prose Poems by Jennifer Martelli

Astronomers Added the Unicorn to the Orion Constellation Family for Completeness

                                       –A Field Guide to the Stars and Planets

I said to my two friends, I’ve been writing about Kitty Genovese because she looks like everybody I’m related to, like me with my black hair cut short into a pixie. We stood on the cobblestone sidewalk off Hanover Street, outside the store that sold Italian horns, Christ heads, Befana witches, hollow sugared eggs with scenes of the Passion inside where the yolk once was, rabbit’s feet dyed pink.

A big man wearing a weight-lifting belt tried to pass around us. He was walking two dogs: a thick roan pit bull and a toy black terrier. In a falsetto voice, I said to the large and small dogs, Hi babies! Hey baby, the man said back. I asked my friends, How do you pronounce her name? Olivia said, Well, we’d say Gen-Oh-Vay-Zee. Laurette said, Maybe you’re writing about her because she wasn’t heard, or she was heard and not listened to.

I was about to tell them that Kitty’s brother said their name like the crime family, Gen-Oh-Veez, because some Italians didn’t want people to hear that long vowel at the end. But Olivia said, We’re unicorns, you know, Italian women who write, we’re that rare. I wanted espresso with a lemon rind and rock candy anyway. At the cafe, we admired each other’s boots: one of us wore boots with stacked heels, one pair fringed, my boots came up over my knees. All black tucked under our iron chairs.

Stencil of Kitty Genovese on a Cinderblock Wall

My friend found it first. Does it matter that we have the same name? Neither of us was looking for her; nevertheless, Kitty Genovese’s face appeared one day on that old wall that no one lived or worked behind anymore: the grunge garage, bankrupted, down the street, off the square where it floods all the time from the rains and the rivers that flow deep beneath the ground. There’s something wrong with that area, she said, I don’t like my kids walking there. But she walked there that day and took the photo on her phone of Kitty stenciled on the wall, and asked me, Is this Kitty? Is this who you’re writing about? She was barely formed, barely filled in, except for the contours of her face: the messy bob, the arched brow, oh that beautiful top lip curved. Someone must have projected her from a Kodak carousel, from a single beam shining through a vintage slide. Did I tell you my friend and I have the same name? That I’d been thinking of Kitty for most of the summer, and now we were both haunted?

In the North End

Boston loomed, lit: a wasps’ nest ignited and inhaled. My friend’s lungs stopped for five sweet panic-seconds. Two millennia ago, Sappho said in some future time someone will think of you. I said count. In nineteen-nineteen, the brick streets in the North End flooded with a million gallons of thick blackstrap molasses. My friend’s big red heart beat: four valves vibrating, a mandolin tremolo. Count. The asters. The Pleiades.


Jennifer Martelli’s debut poetry collection, The Uncanny Valley, was published in 2016 by Big Table Publishing Company. She is also the author of the chapbook, Apostrophe and the chapbook, After Bird, from Grey Book Press. Her work has appeared in Thrush, [Pank], Glass Poetry Journal, The Heavy Feather Review, and Tinderbox Poetry Journal. Jennifer Martelli has been nominated for Pushcart and Best of the Net Prizes and is the recipient of the Massachusetts Cultural Council Grant in Poetry. She is a book reviewer for Up the Staircase Quarterly, as well as a co-curator for The Mom Egg VOX Blog Folio.

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