Jennifer Martelli


                                    I do not gaze into crystal balls, Joan Quigley, Nancy Reagan’s astrologer


In the 80s, I experienced five types of hunger, but never the one that ended in nourishment. There was the hunger for love. The hunger for freedom from bondage of self. The hunger for cock. The hunger for full moons. The hunger to know.

A strega lived on my street. She would take a gold-rimmed white plate, pour a drop of green olive oil in the middle of water, grind pepper, and read the future. If the pepper flakes made a circle, an argument was in the offing; if they scattered like the stars, recovery was possible. The oil floated on the water: sometimes a large moon circle, sometimes pearlescent beads.

T. and I would go upstairs to her bedroom, in the Cape Cod-style house she lived in with her father and her brother: her room, tucked under the dormer. Next to her French Provincial bed, there was a little door we had to bend down to enter. A long attic spanned the length of her house to her brother’s room. It was their umbilical cord, their spinal column, their string phone.

And the phones had touch-tone buttons, faster than the old dials you had to drag back to zero. We hovered our hands over the square buttons, asked about each boy who broke us: but do you think he’ll call? Sometimes, the phone rang. Back then, we could call to get the weather forecast and the exact time.

One night, we dressed for a costume party at a club. T. had saved her mother’s silk and chiffon scarves. We draped them over our faces and around our waists. Some scarves had unraveled fringe; one had tiny seed pearls. We wanted to see the future.

Then, J. came through the long attic with packets of cocaine he weighed on a chemist’s scale and folded into tiny envelopes. We needed a perfect place to inhale it through the gold-plated straw: not off the floor, not off the glass covering the photo of her mother, not off her first communion bible.  Maybe the tender webbing between our fingers and thumbs. We found her round, cracked make-up mirror in a black satin Gucci clutch with a pearl clasp.

I pleaded with so many boys not to leave me. One boy’s shoulders swayed like a lever on a fulcrum as he walked away. His white shirt glowed in the moonlight. In a nightmare, I couldn’t make my fingers work the phone to call him. I couldn’t speak loud enough for him to hear me.


Jennifer Martelli is the author of My Tarantella (Bordighera Press), awarded an Honorable Mention from the Italian-American Studies Association, selected as a 2019 “Must Read” by the Massachusetts Center for the Book, and named as a finalist for the Housatonic Book Award. Her chapbook, After Bird, was the winner of the Grey Book Press open reading, 2016. Her work has appeared or will appear in Verse Daily, Iron Horse Review (winner, Photo Finish contest), The Sycamore Review, and POETRY. Jennifer Martelli has twice received grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Council for her poetry. A native of Massachusetts, Martelli received degrees from Boston University and the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers. She is co-poetry editor for Mom Egg Review and co-curates the Italian-American Writers Series in Boston.