Off the Coast, Maine's International Poetry Journal
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FALL 2015: "The False Linearity of Seeing"


unopened umbrella
yellow petals pool
on the front porch

—Deborah P Kolodji, Temple City, CA

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Maita Shava

Mhofu yomukono, Ziwewera
Hekani mutekedza
Vakatekedzana pa Janga
Wakapiwa mukadzi munyika yevaNjanja
Hekani mutekedza, vari muhera mukonde
Zwaitwa mhukahuru vemiswe inochenga muviri

Ah, ko mazwi angu angapinda sei muninga yepfungwa dzenyu?
Ndingataure here kubudikidza nemi, muromo wangu urikukwakukakwakuka, mwoyo wenyu wanyorovera
Munogona kundiudza zvose, Shava
Nhasi, ndichaedza kutaura nomunemi
Iyi inyaya yenyu iyi, Shava
Ndononamata kusarasa ngano yenyu iyi

Ndakakusarudza iwe nokuda kwako chete
Uri munamato wangu wakahwandiswa
Uri ngirozi iri munzira iri pakati pepasi nedenga
Tirikuenda kunyika itsva pamwechete

Paivapo pataisangana, tichinwa, kuseka, kutsvodana
Zvisiisii zvichitikurudzira nezvidimbu zvemimhanzi yenziyo dzatairangaridzwa
Tsvodo? Nganiko? ah, handingakuudzei
Ndakakugumbatira nguva refu zvangu pawaiva wati raremangwana
Muromo wangu unenzara yokuda kukuswada mandiri.
Zvishomanana tsvoda dzichinanga pamurumo pako
Mune ramangwana ngwanani, ndokunyorera wamukasei tichisasana zvechihwandehwande hedu
Dimwe nguva, ndaisatomboziva zvandaitaura zvangu

Zvikwawu zvandakatsetsa kubva mumakodo kuitira rudo rwako
Mwoyo wakapetunura mwoyo wangu
Kuitira tsanga yembeu yomwoyo wangu
Irikumerera muvhu rako, muti wangu munyoronyoro
Ivhu remaruva angu anoyevedza kudairira nziyo yorudo rwako
Uri furafura rangu rinonwa kubva muhana nhete yemaruva angu

Uri patya rangu romuninga dzepfungwa dzangu, diziro remapapiro angu atyoka
Kunge shiri mbiri dzehurekure, tamhara pabango regore rokudenga
Tichanyora nomwoyo yedu yasunganiswa paganda regore iri
Mumvuramvura nohuhwandi hwemvura yemakore tichakura pamwechete
Nhasi ndonokupai mwoyo wangu nekiyi yeninga dzepfungwa dzangu
Semubikiro wezvinonaka, Shava
Rudo rwako rwunondizadza nemufaro nemanyemwe sehari dzezvinotapira
dziri muninga yenyikadzimu chisionekwi.
Ndawuwudza halleluiah, Ndawuwudza halleluiah, Ndawuwudza halleluiah.
Ndinokudai Shava, Ndinokudai Mhofu, Ndinokudai Ziwewera.

—Tendai Rinos Mwanaka, Harare, Zimbabwe

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Thank you Shava

The Great Eland bull. The Runaway
Thank you very much. The one who carries heavy loads
Those who challenged each other at Janga
Those who were given wives in the country of the Njanja people
Thank you my dear mutekedza, those in uHera Mukonde
It has been done Great Animal, those with tails that are intimate with body

Oh, how can one person's words enter the soul of another?
Can I speak through you, my mouth keeps moving, your heart is still
You can tell me anything, Shava
Now, I try to speak through you
This is your story, Shava
I pray never to lose your story

I chose you for you
You are my hidden prayer
A saint as a point of moving from earth to heaven
Herding for a new country together

There was a rendezvous, a drink, a laugh, a kiss
Hummingbirds motivating us to sound snatches of remembered songs
A kiss? How many? Oh, I couldn't say
Holding you longer each time we say goodnight
My mouth hungering to take you in
Slowly moving each kiss closer to your mouth
In the morning I would text you goodmorning and flirt in codes
Sometimes, I didn't know what I was saying

The oars I carved out of my bones for the love of you
The heart that opened my heart
For the wheat of my heart
Sprouting in your soil, the plant of my tenderness
The soil where my roses blooms to the tune of your love
You are my butterfly drinking from the soft heart of my roses

You are the twin of my soul, a sanctuary of my broken wings
Like two swallow birds, we have landed on an arm of a heavenly cloud
And engraved our joined souls on the cloud's skins
In the balmy and bounty of the cloud's rains we will grow old together
Today, I present my heart and the keys of my soul to you
As a dish of delight, Shava
Your love overwhelms me with ecstasy like clay pots of sweetened drinks
In the cave of the mystery of myth
I chant halleluiah, I chant halleluiah, I chant halleluiah
I love you Shava, I love you Great Bull, I love you The Runaway

—Tendai Rinos Mwanaka, Harare, Zimbabwe

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A Shift of Season

The winter mind is ruinous,
navigating white, spent blues,
gritty browns and grays,
toward the apostles of sun
threading into the earth,
their arms waving over the ground,
whittling the air, beseeching.

The winter heart is guarded.
Birds return and scatter
their lyrics; seeds that find
fertile soil to begin
tethering roots to green emerging.

Violas ease into sight,
with crocus, pansy, jonquil,
making a refuge of giddy brilliance
for the first steps out from winter's fist.

—Mercedes Lawry, Seattle, WA

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Sweet Water Only

Last round of the lane, dusk falling
across the district,
he's back where he began after the morning prayer,
hangs up his skin on a nail in the hurting wall
and falls asleep on a straw mat.
Half that pulpit wall went down
one monsoon along with his father.
The back of the wall is still some use.
At least, the mosque has a water tap,
his filling station, and a rent-free foyer.
He dreams about his father's dim eyes
looking in the distance, his kindly face
the only hope that was; a mirage
ebbing white in the desert he's known
since he saw his mother crying
round an old cot.
Azan, and he's up again,
rubbing his eyes upon the same star above
that waits out the twilit hour.
Day's work is a half torn shirt,
sun burning a white strap into the shoulder,
water skin on the back.
So bent for his years,
some would think he's been praying
in obeisance to God too much.
Each time he fills up and pats it
with a gentle hand,
then a jolt that settles the weight in place.
The steer hide still smelling good,
with him and his father's sweat
soaking in for maybe a hundred years,
from before Elizabeth became Queen.
It's something to smell to believe. Go,
hobble from door to door and see the smiling eyes.
People are hardly wrong: 'Look,
he carries the Arabian Sea on his back'.
And he assures like a town crier:
Sweet water only!

—Alamgir Hashmi, New York, NY

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On Hearing Thunder

My barefoot mother dares the cove
to liberate its storm, raves from our porch.
Worn from years of childrearing, she

welcomes capricious sky, beckons
the scent of asphalt-ocean. I am a vessel
brimming with uncertainty, cautious

in the constant shifting of my adolescent body.
Called to her side, I feign belonging
as she bellows into grey air, a sorceress

hoarding orbs between her palms. Together
we await the gale's arrival, thick drops pummel
the steps as we climb, moving deeper

into heavy rain. We open windows, allow
our wooden floors to swell. A storm door woman
with no glass left, I'm in her wake becoming her replica.

—Rage Hezekiah, Watertown, MA

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Music Inherent in the Extremities

Having spent a day in the plain-spun soreness
of a body subtly aging, my prayer

isn't concerned with praise or its coy sister,
condemnation. It just wants to

cut through the penumbra around what we say
is time, that cowled woman in fog,

the light furred by an excess of moisture.
Multiple images obscure the false

linearity of seeing. Fix the eye
on one thing and everything else

is aura. The gypsy at the carnival
touched my naked palm with all the grace

prophecy can muster when faced with
the certainty of loss. All around us

games were being played for the promise
of the most meager of rewards. Time,

the gypsy might have said, if she hadn't
been rendered mute by the lines

etched in my sore and bitter palm,
time is not a stuffed animal

that can be won by luck or good aim.
Gypsy, forgive yourself. What you saw,

carved out so clear in my palm
not even you could miss it,

was not what you expected. Death
never is. Its sister fear, that witty beauty,

so envied, has learned her whole body,
with the right music, becomes

an erogenous zone. Touch her
and her eyes close, the coarse music of

her moans begins. Carnies say
she comes to them in while they sleep,

and they wake to a body they want
to take for a walk through damp grass.

Barefoot, the carnies like to whistle
whatever music they haven't lost and wonder

about the cowled woman they swear
hums whole orchestras of grief

and longing in a fog that's thick enough
they believe it may never burn off.

Vision is, at best, a tricky thing. At worst,
it sighs under the loving hands of

our pleasures and our pains, giving in
to the ministrations of passion. The gypsy,

in that pause before loss, shivered
with my palms confronting her,

open on the table, in that dim booth
decorated with scarves and candles,

flickering. Forgiveness doesn't come
dressed in silks, gaudy with flamboyance,

but arrives naked, adorned with evidence
of a long, difficult journey. Tonight

praise and condemnation have given up
on everything and are dancing, these two

long-quarreling sisters, with one another.
Grace, the distant cousin they both envy,

claps along with the music they dance to,
smiling, her palms smooth and burning time.

—George Looney, Erie, PA

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Losers: A Short History

after Karen Dalton


Uncle A, who sips Heineken from his Big
Gulp, tells me call him if ever I find trouble.

Trouble is in the pecan tree,
it is in the dictionary.

Trouble is in each recycled jade bottle.
Trouble is in the chintz, the wayward leaf

dismembered in cream. A knot caught
and the moss snarled, untethered.


Tell me.
She trips on the rocks, her voice
gravel. How could you be
so mean? The creek beneath pulls
the pith out from the stem
and into the earth.
It's alright.

The note, not quite, wavers
to find its footing.

The wet stones are tossed jacks.


Who could cross
without steeping their hem
damp and brown?

So overgrown
with wildrye and stinging nettle,
who wouldn't get their dress caught?


You knew that was wrong. You knew it was a river,
creeks could never be so wily. The water is just
narrow here, a slender spine that winds in tendrils
like the hair of a girl you once knew, like you now
know just your own rough skull: a shorn plane.


The rock holds up.

Under the umber
surface glass

the river yearns.

It carries southward with it
the erosion from the soil,

wild thyme and cracks of green vial.

—Suzannah Spaar, Pittsburgh, PA

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Everything Happens for a Reason

I'm studying for my polygraph test. It's not one of those easy, multiple-choice tests. You have to be smarter than the internet; you have to know bee logic, know exactly where to land. I don't think they're going to grade my exam on a curve. But, I'm not worried. I'm a great test-taker. I got an A+ on my marksman's exam. The day I took that test, I wore a t-shirt that said Gun Control on the front. On the back, it said, SQUEEZE, Don't Pull. The boys at the shooting range thought that was a hoot. Fortunately, I look good when I'm dressed in camouflage. When I get down on the ground, you can't really tell it's me. I look like a desert with some leaves blowing over it. Vicki used to say I looked like the wind, with its boots on. Vicki was a million laughs. I told her it's all about rightsizing. You've got to get it just right; not too much, not too little. That's why I used to carry one of those yellow tape measures with me wherever I went. But I don't need them anymore. I've gotten pretty good at guessing how big or small things are. It's all about perspective. Vicki used to say it's a God-given talent. I can guess the carats of diamonds and the caliber of bullets. I could guess your collar size, right now. No sweat. My lawyer says there's a lot riding on this trial. He said my neck is on the line. I told him that when I'm on the stand, I'll sit quiet as a pearl, my face, hard as an oyster shell. When they ask me those questions, I'm going to be ready. Like an ambush. Like I'm firing into the kill zone. Cool and controlled. Squeeze, don't pull. Hug, don't strangle. Even if Vicki's mom and dad are in the courtroom, even if I'm convicted, I'm cool, I'm ready. Like they say, everything happens for a reason. Almost everything.

—Brad Rose, Wellesley, MA

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Letter to a Neighbor Who Called the Police Upon Seeing Mexicans Dancing in the Trees

O sweet dementia
why can a man not choose his own fantasia?

so many fairy-tale lands exist
that is: do not exist

I know: that mist never clears
you build your homunculus

out of scrapings off the news
you witness strangers with caramel skin

their fast words & quick feet
breaking limbs or breaking in-

to a house where you locked all doors &
boarded up the windows years ago

—Ace Boggess, Charleston, WV

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God Poem

God is a doofus.
I can say that because I don't believe in a God,
but if I did, I'd also believe in God's thick skin
and sense of humor.
I'd believe that at the start of whatever counts as a day
for a being extraneous to time
God would crack open a folder
full of things people like me think and say,
and start laughing,
calling to whatever company God keeps:
"Check this out, another poet with 'feedback.'"

—Jonathan Louis Duckworth, Niceville, FL

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My Student Asks Me How I Know

that north is north. How,
when I look at a map of the world, do I decide
which puzzled shape is
home? And in the picture
book I gave him about pharaohs, how
can pyramids date back four-thousand years
if all the years we count, each time
we write the date, are two-thousand
and fifteen?

My student is 27, or 25, or 29—he does not know
for sure. He does not know
of dinosaurs or Darwin, of Santa or satellites or germs
or genes, of how his daughter can look not like him and not
like his wife, but like the returned spirit
of his father, killed
by army bullets many harvests past, when
farmers in his village stood accused
of sharing rice with rebel troops.

But he knows
how to ride a water buffalo,
how to find the best bamboo,
how to cut it, carry it, transform it
into walls and floor and roof to last
three rainy seasons.
He knows how to spear a fish,
how to shroud the dead.
He knows how to speak the language of his people,
and the language of the government his people fled,
and the language of the refugee camp
where he grew from boyhood into marriage.
He knows how to write
a little
of each of these, which mattered little, before now,
because no one else he knew had ever needed
written words.

And now, in his new American home,
he has learned to read
a third grade book
in English,
and to drive a car,
to walk in snow,
to use lightbulbs, laptops, house keys.
He's learned how to live with a silent tongue
in this book-rich land
whose people carry Moses, Medusa, Mars, and
the moon as lightly
as pennies in their pockets.
He's learned how to stack parcels
all night for FedEx, and go to classes
in the day, and to keep
going, day after day, knowing
he has entered a life enormously full
of words that point
to holes
in the world he thought he knew, holes
through which he still can hope
to someday slip
into another life, easier
than this.

—Jennifer Freed, Holden, MA

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