Off the Coast, Maine's International Poetry Journal

FALL 2012: "Hung Them Gently, Neatly"

Where I Was When I Heard the News
November 22, 1963

Memory is a flame that melts
the world down to a dark and
glassy grey, folds in stray reflections,
and pours the brew into a die,

a pot at the boil, steam haloing our heads,
draping the windows beyond which
the night waits, black as a riderless horse
kicking the sun from his hooves,

and soon, and soon, the sight of
red shoes, blue coats, anklets white
and soft as lilies, soon the hush of
America at its prayers

my mother's cheeks blooming like roses,
me, barking like a circus seal,
both of us raccoon-eyed and addlepated,
close to tears, clumsy and dumb,

one moment me, still so small,
reaching for the white banshees of steam,
the next, me, poached from nape to heels,
my skin dripping from her hands

as the spray of roses erupts from his
brow to dapple her pink suit, and the
long, black stream of cars surges away as if swollen with a hard rain

and we race through the Baltimore streets
—me laid out in the back, my mother
kneeling beside me, red lights beading
the wet windows like Popsicle juice—

to a place where nurses in serrated hats hold
me down each day and spray a mist of
broken glass and hot needles on the saddle
of burns I wear, and I spout sirens and

train whistles and crackle the black bark
glued to my skin while my mother stands
in the doorway, her hands over her
mouth, eyes like wet soot

watching everything as he dies,
his killed eyes open while they flood
his veins with bright libations, wring his heart
in a place that smells like a swimming pool

in a place where old men look like little boys
hoping that a mother will take them by the hand,
brush the hair from their eyes,
say "shhh, now, shhh" until everything comes right

and where, one cold day, she walks into my room in her coat and gloves and Jackie hat, kneels down beside my bed, puts her head in her hands, and weeps and weeps as if the world is ending.

My back is smooth as a river now, but for my whole
life I will ride that car in Dallas with skin like crinoline,
my throat full of sirens, the air wet with red mist and
Popsicle juice, the windows beaded with her tears.

—Lauren Wolk, Centerville, MA

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Stray dog licks
dropped ice cream cone.

—X. J. Kennedy, Lexington, MA

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Moon Bear

Moon bear drape over bough like a tarp,
dangle by one paw, skin on a coat hanger,
wear her outside loose and never do the top button.
Moon bear catch a worm in the bark,
slide down trunk and land like a puddle.

Moon bear walk feet on the ground,
head held aloft with fishing wire,
anatomy sagging like so much bait.
Shuffle through dirt all leather and tendon,
drop on her belly flat as a dial tone.

Moon bear get lost in her own shoulders,
tuck in like a pill bug, roll out like the end credits.
Flirt with her toes, like all good lovers
too close to reach. Moon bear eat the soil,
root up toadstools and many-legged coils.

Moon bear grunt like cathedral organ,
smell the air and breathe out the fog,
pound the earth, her great tambourine.
Grin a double grin, one clamped between fangs,
one on her belly dribbling starlight.

—Aaron Krol, Boston, MA

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By our bedside
Mother's ashes rest
in her best candy dish.

—X. J. Kennedy, Lexington, MA

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Copper Radiator

Sun downy as a peep in the cradle of my father's hand,
its eyes shiny, some say sun spots make us feel this way,

a little off, a little clumsy, too young to be careful,
I step into the flare of his fist. Both hands opening

to hold the light like a blind man seeking the door.
Some say the tongue can be trained to perceive.

If two speak to each other long enough,
one begins to see what the other thinks.

Copper, zinc—so many ways to disperse the heat.
Let the deaf hear the siren's blaze like an acid trip,

ghast bloom of roses. I always loved the little langue
of fur inside an iris, not the eye, the flower,

we go marching in the beauty of the day, a million
darkened kitchens, bread and roses are not the same

as bread and circuses, but what does either know
about the clown with the huge white glove smacking the egg.

—Lois Marie Harrod, Hopewell, NJ

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He knows the ways of giant pumpkins. We're talking three-quarters of a ton, pumpkins to make pick-up trucks groan, drag low, gouge ruts into asphalt. Tight next to the heirloom chickens, many are fruited but one is chosen, one single pumpkin fed by ninety square yards of vine. He stoked the soil five years to fuel leaves tall and broad as lotus, waist-high stalks thick as eggs, you should see the stem of the queen, broad as my big-boned wrist. She lies at anchor, a diving bell, a new island. That's my baby girl, he says, only one month old. July. August, September, October, drinking long stretches of light and heat. How fast does this asteroid approach? Score the pretenders with your nail before you twist them off, they pop apart like a dropped dictionary falling open to horticulture.

—Karen Greenbaum-Maya, Claremont, CA

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As if the pump for the well
is carving her shoulders out
and the invisible stone

you will hold when it dries
broken up among the ruins
though some rocks

still squeeze one hand
too tight and the faucet
cover you with a place

that can not rest
--what you grip will be this cup
left over from the first death

no longer noon but a cramp
for which there is no potion
only her lips falling from the sky

almost empty, worn down
clings to the ground
as minutes, hours, evenings

--for years one hand
closing over the other
already a shadow

half grass, half thirst
half some vague hovering
inside your throat

--mouthful by mouthful only cold water
at last in the open
pulled up and still falling.

—Simon Perchik, East Hampton, NY

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Your one trick pony
is a sorry psychohistory
of the Trojan horse.
Your nails, your flailing
sails whipping against
the swells and gale force
winds of our sometimes
bed is a crude kind of ruse--
the Morse code you
keep tap tap tapping
through my head
is a mellifluous Odysseus
that makes me yearn
for a speedy divorce.
But who can afford it?
So I guess I'll keep legging
the lamb. Keep pledging
the thighbone to the great
Lord Lightning in the sky.
And yes, when the guiling gift
comes trundling, I'll throw
the brainless gates open wide.

—Ryan Mitchell, Las Vegas, NV

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