Off the Coast, Maine's International Poetry Journal

SPRING 2014: "Tunneling Toward the Sun"

Bowl of Oranges

The oranges are still on the picnic table
when the snow comes like a darkness.

The bright bowl, the blank neon heart
of a yard. The oranges: suns
smothered in blankets of November.

Then the children walking over them
in the land of slopes and drifts.
So little, the prints pressing the blizzard's comfort.

But where are the white tail deer? What of the pansies they mangle by the gate?
Where the pointed tips of the fence?
Spring will be stolen by the malaise
of June. The mailbox will rust.
The porch will divide and fall. But look

how the mother forages in the attic
for her real furs. How the father drinks
enough to shovel off to sleep.

And the children: the way abandonment
settles in—a quiet. How they turn
the door key softly.

These muted hands in mittens
and handfuls of powder,
they are tunneling toward the sun,
driven by some everlasting bright
below. Silence is its own music.

— Christopher Beard, Dallas, TX


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Specific Gravity
Gozo & Calypso

There's this, a vague glimpse
on the ferry to Gozo—
aquamarine, glinting silver
water underfoot, and dripping
off railings, how it always is

On the survey form
I list MS, and wish
for a blank where I could
explain further—divorced, yes
but after twenty-one years
(we grew up together)
and he's died, but I'm not
a widow—it took so long to tan
the finger where the ring was—

Later, how one's feet are gripped
as if the sand beneath was
a living, voracious creature,
red sand, an ugly beach
endless, to cross
finally, up high cliffs

The Guide says we're overlooking
Ramla Bay, from high on Gozo
"You have just retraced
Odysseus' footsteps and this—"
pointing to a breach in
tumbled, huge rocks—"This
is the entrance to his cave
where she kept him
seven years."

Think of it. Seven years a slave
seven years of daily visits
from the old hag, walks on that beach
he couldn't sail away from
the air musty with brine

steps down into darkness, tip down
as I shudder, holding my breath
and here, a rope rail prickles
seven. How it must have seemed
an eternity. Yet I won't deny
I gave three times seven, with
no idea how old lusts held me
nor how lost that life.

— Ruth Moon Kempher, St. Augustine, FL


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Vanitas Scriptoris

Monkishly bent on Latin, how his back
Is brooding, playing hunches what it means.
It's all about him: look how hard he leans
On Lewis-Short to keep his lines on track.

A pony here, and there an aging trot
To back him up—and maybe calm his fears
(It's Virgil from across two thousand years)—
He strains to tell what is from what is not.

"Sing, Muse," he longs to say, "through me, tonight,
This once, oh please." But she already did,
In such a glory as to spoil his bid
For borrowed fame. And this will come to light

With morning, when at last that fact will dawn
On him, and this: that still he must go on.

— Len Krisak, Newton, MA


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Welteislehre

In September the CEO contacts NASA to send him to space.
A debt ceiling looming over Congress and the millionaire
heads toward the moon, floats around a bit, returns to tell
the story to his office. I'll be clear. There can be no skepticism
where there is no gravity.

All day in my garage, the buzz saw, face guard,
coming to terms with the world I learn from television.
At my worktable, measuring precise angles in a hurry.
Imagine: feet dangling like a marionette, eyes wide
at the once immeasurable globe.

Perfect earth, comprehensible size he always wanted it
to be. The continents: conflicting his childhood maps.
He wants you to know that Russia is larger than we're told,
that the bright lights of Japan at night were like a sideways grin
elbowing to him in-vitro.

More than anything, that somewhere below a bank was holding
his credit and ready for re-entry. His secretary nods, agreeing
earth is more an oval, that Africa is not an ice cream cone
but a dolphin, mid-flight, ready to dive back in
to the unknowable ocean.

In application for my home loan I sign that line deciding
all borrowed funds be used for property, yet each night go on
constructing the rocket in my backyard: dismantling my mower,
gutting blender cables, stripping the toaster circuit to lay it on my lawn
losing track of the color-coded wiring at my feet.

— John C. Bennett, Missoula, MT


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the lie of the orchard

she would wear pink
sometimes in spring

gold eggs laid in baskets
woven with bows

she would giggle sugar
sister like curls

sit sedately on cushions
laced ankles pose center

fold hands on crinolined knee
if the moon was a lady
red apples fallen down trees.

she would count blessings
recite honest prose sometimes

textbooks in autumn leaves
scruffy professors

she would gather the numbers
argue the values
lean over the lectern

if the tide was not pulling that day
the serpent not shedding her skin
red apples falling down trees.

she would smother a baby
sometimes love only one man

warm summer glow
gold sweat on her back

she would listen to stories
faithful and calm as a friend
shoulder bosom hearth of the den

if the crescent held steady
the snake would not talk
red apples stayed in their trees.

— Colleen Carias, Santa Fe, NM


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Pakistani Jazz

Weave of the horn section
against arid hills full of bunkers
chub, chub, chub of 'copters
against the snare and tom-tom
where sandals slap the dust
the brush on the back beat
stand-up bass bombing hard
slide, pop, long legato hold
and riff the IED's to drones
rising hums staccato drops
melody of fifths all hash oil
opium mouthpieces burning
spittle on the floor and valve
grease five four time and coda
take the rhythm and run, baby.

— Brad Garber, Lake Oswego, OR


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My Underpants

I found them on the bathroom floor
after my cousin and her boyfriend
left for Ithaca. They were green
with gold stripes and they weren't
mine. I stood there for a long time
considering them. They weren't
dirty but they weren't exactly clean
either. They were unwashed.
But they weren't unclean the way
a dead bird is unclean, or the way
an unsanctified thing or an unholy thing
is unclean. I picked them up and did I
smell them? I want to say I smelled them.
I may have smelled them because
they weren't unclean and they were undoubtedly
my cousin's boyfriend's and he is a good man,
not a holy man but a good man with a good
job in Ithaca, New York and an excellent beard.
Of course I thought about returning them,
sending them back in a mailer or small brown box,
and I thought about washing them,
though they weren't mine and they weren't
unclean, only unwashed. And they weren't
sexy, only colorful. They were more colorful
than all of my underpants put together.
You will want to know I am wearing them
as I write this. Much time has elapsed
since that day in the bathroom. My cousin
and her boyfriend have gotten married.
I have gotten married myself. My wife
has no idea about the provenance
of the green underpants. She thinks they are mine.
She washes them with my underpants
and her underpants, and she puts them all
in a sweet-smelling pile on top of the dresser.
I think there is something a little holy
about a pile of clean underpants on top of a dresser.
I think that putting them away in a drawer
would be like putting your light under a bushel,
or locking your bird up in a cage,
or packing up a good green thing
in a small brown box
and sending it far, far away from you.

— Paul Hostovsky, Medfield, MA


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How to Write to Your Straw Man

Stuff your most hayseed shirt. Name him
With your ex's name tag from the job he quit.

Place his torso in your long hidden overalls.
Remember: You're building an argument.

For the head, nothing as sturdy as a pumpkin.
Rank burlap, filled enough that he nods off.

No easy farmer's hat. A roommate's ball cap
is subtly in place of italics, exclamations.

Choose your largest coat buttons for eyes.
Now you'll always find him dumbfound.

Any shoes for feet, tied together, nailed down.
This keeps your thesis focused, easier to defend.

Use mittens for hands but stuff the thumbs,
enough bone so you can claim self-defense.

Sew them together so he looks protective
of his crotch. Now you can bring up Freud.

Conclude that it all could have been resolved
if only he'd have talked. Forget to draw a mouth.

— Chad Parenteau, Jamaica Plain, MA


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House Tour

No nearer, lest reality
Should disenthrall thy soul.

— EmilyDickinson

Six thousand dollars, he says,
for two replica dresses made in England.
The dress you will see, the stay-at-home-
out-of-sight dress, not the dress

gone to Harvard, never to graduate
beyond private viewings. However,
for the price of a ticket, our feet
can go up the stairs to her room.

Hands to yourselves, please: this wool
shawl, her shawl, this sleigh bed, indeed.
her bed. Some sign of her then, perhaps
a bend of hip in mattress, a pen

scratch on the desk? Not really
her desk. Perhaps it will come back
someday. For now, this way.
Shined and perfect, rubbed clean

of her presence, hardwood sanded
below footprints, cabinet doors stuck
from too many layers, and the dress
she never wore, fresh as a corsage

in its plexiglass box, tiny pleats folded
white over white, buttons to the floor,
made to her measure. She was so small,
smaller than we thought, yet always

too much for us, dismayed to find
her gone before we had a chance.
Only the windows give us something:
square on square of pale winter sun,

old glass melting in and out of focus,
her grief contained to right angles
on the nursery of her nephew's death,
the lawn too wide to cross

— Linda Aldrich, Portland, ME


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Far from Christiana

On the boardwalk he tries to breathe, but everything
broadcasts a corruptive aura. Teens on rollerblades

trail a motion blur. A stroller leashed to three dogs—
viridian tails and cadmium tongues. Family fun-time

belches ochre. The Atlantic is an oxidized pool
that swallows his good retina. Boat-launch people

exchange ha-ha's. Behind him two men ramble arm-in-arm,
grey-trenched in this hot weather. He traces them

on his periphery, knows he is the quarry. A cone
of fries wafts supernal grease smell

and a sooty aftermath. A paper sign taped
to the rail reads Watch for These Scary Signs

of Depression. If he shuts his eyes the people and push-pull
will go macroplanetary. He must pretend:

dumb, numb, lazy. Do the ankle-boogie
with his foot in a trap. His words are no good

to describe his problems and anyway
who trusts the secret police?

— Jill Khoury, Pittsburgh, PA


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Ntarama, Rwanda

The bones are arranged
so carefully by type
on the broken shelves
of the church. Femur,
radius, spine; all placed
in order from smallest
to largest, from infant
to man, to rest
forever in these specific
categories. A bone collection
that makes it hard
to grasp the human
connection to bone, the
skin, nerves, and moving
muscle. There is one
piece of scattered proof
of living: a brown
stain of dried blood
on the stick leaning
against the wall, it
pierced a baby's skull
while it was still
sleeping inside its mother.
Maybe we can only
make sense of such
a thing by attempting
to organize it. So
the skull too is
set upon the shelf.

— Inga Schmidt, Collegeville, PA


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