Off the Coast, Maine's International Poetry Journal
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SPRING 2016: "The Strong Indifferent Wind"

Bullet

I am the bullet
that does not believe
it's a bullet.

When I split flesh,
I don't feel the blood,
or the heat of my
velocity.

Neither do I understand
the death I'm giving,
a present the body doesn't want.

I am a diver into
a swimming pool, hot and wet,
that when I'm pried out
I will exit it, wrapped in a towel.

I will not consider myself
evidence, matched with the pistol
that fired me, supplying
proof that I was a murderer.

No, not me, I say.
I'm the championship athlete,
falling head first into water.

I didn't drown in a crime
I didn't believe in.

I have my own flesh, my own heart.
I can hear it still beating
in this evidence bag, ready
to bust into love.

—Donald Illich, Rockville, MD

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Song

In the periodic distance,
spoke of evening cresting like the
song that night breaks in the trees and
the folds of rusty light gone and
the phrases of starlings lifting,
circuiting from there to there through
leaves. And on the hushed step, flashing,
you're playing your guitar as if

a dark within the dark is your
negritude, as if music is
a brother, rising over dark
fields to one gone, as if your song
is both the grief and the harvest
and you are your brother's story
or you are your brother's music,
even the shadow of his song.

—Becky Kennedy, Jamaica Plain, MA

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Syncopation

She hears the whip of the golf stick summon
the air every night, on the rooftop a 100 storey

high, she hears her mother falter the tees,
though never otherwise at her work station—

she fields with precision. Her instructions line
up like ants at a picnic table: orderly, aligned,

pacing up old and new wood, conquering her
words with the pride an achiever would know;

she hears her mother win against losses, with ears

that never felt the pleasure of sound fall upon them,
she had learnt to taste them instead with her eyes,

and a heart that didn't learn to recognize crushing,
trampling, for everything around her never moved

but stayed in line like her mother's lips, hands that
didn't soften when repeating what she conveyed,

ending her nights on the rooftop to practice
swinging, pitching,

her symbols sharp, precise
and without apology.

—Sheikha A., Karachi, Pakistan

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Suspended Father

1.
There could have been smoke from those adolescent factories.
The harder the machinery rattles inside, the fatter the clouds.

Father's giggle full of hopped up bellhops rings
daughterwards. You can't fix it––

young boys pulling up to her life
to find everything that happens without them.

They enter an orchard,
and leave a thief.

2.
Bog pigs and jackdaws gossiping
by the jacaranda tree. The wings of a timid wren

whisper from thatched ridgepoles, a jade hairpin
caught in the folds of the daughter's gauze dress.

There's a dream waiting.
Come back when she's done, Papa Housewife.

Here's the fluttering book of a tiny bird with too many wings.
His mother must have given birth on a cold stone.

Her touch like a moth fluttering, about to land,
about to alter the world that accepts it.

Climb in an open window,
come out with a wound.

3.
Willow kindling. A cup of barley tea.
A kitchen knife splinting the kettle's broken leg.

Carefully braided cables of garlic. The soothing voice
of distant oars muffled by blooming water lilies.

Soon enough he's walking his dogsoul past the lighthouse
and she doesn't need to say he's not coming back.

Even the silent evening sky seems noisy with this distance,
his new life a rough-hewn packing crate with no address.

At first she seemed to be rising, powder-blue, welcomed
and scented with cloves and then she came back

the way cold comes in under your clothing
and won't leave until it touches you,

the sun's ignored slow broom still dusting remembered air
where it reached through the window to remind you.

Stirred and gone, those boys. They weren't listening.
You'll have to swim from shore to shore to soak up all the gossip.

—Rich Ives, Camano Island, WA

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Chuang Tzu's Butterfly

1.
I never wanted to get fucked till I met Brent.
After flickering black and white, nervously sharing
an armrest at the Marx Brothers'Festival,
watching the the amazing Captain Spalding
who once shot an elephant in his pajamas,
I staggered home and found my prostate
for the first time, felt the bliss of blinding myself
with him, and as my self-possession trickled down
my ribs, became once and for all his prop,
his Panama hat, the flank at the end of his riding crop.

2.
The fantasies began later, springing up like
forsythia in the cold of March. In one, we
are the Virgin Kings of the Harvest, coupling
in the high-timbered hut, our adolescence
culminating in the crush of the great logged
roof. In another, you bring a knife to bed
to leave no witness, not even one, that you
loved a man. In the most elaborate, you rig
a spike above the bed, that will strike through
your back, between your shoulder blades,
through your sternum, through my sternum,
pinning you to me, and me to our wedding pyre.

3.
Then I would sleep and dream of Harpo—the fish
in his pocket, a horn for a voice, silverware raining
from his sleeves. It seemed nothing stood between
him and the starlets' beauty. Till down an elevator shaft,
he found a harp that abruptly stopped the pain
and even its thought. And I would dream of you.
Maybe we would kiss. Or just your hand would fall
on mine, uncertain as Chuang Tzu's butterfly.

—Timothy Robbins, Kenosha, WI

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The Falcon Adds Another Skull to Her Collection

Bats harvest mosquitos from the overgrown darkness.
Heads tilted back, we stitch together the stars
in search of a home. In this night,

I lovingly navigate your wrinkles and your scruff.
Yet I know your beard is only a mask
for your lack of wisdom and chin.

In you, Amerigo, I've misplaced my hope,
like the spider who searches for bigger insects,
a better life, in the dark cave of my throat as I sleep.

On the other side of the forest,
God sharpens her beak on wolf bones.
She smells a drop of blood. She flies.

Among the constellations, I locate the devil
starching his shirts
and steaming the crease back into his slacks.

Follow that star, I point. But you, darling,
are preoccupied by the moonlit butterfly
that has landed in your hand.

You cup him close to your ear,
listening for the flap of wings and hope.
You hear instead a delicate, Fuck you.

The synod of mosquitoes began their prayers at dusk.
They've repented their sins,
but even so, the bats will collect what they are due.

The mosquitoes mutter the sacred verses,
Whatever eats you, while you are alive,
is the one, true God
.

—Lisa Grove, Los Angeles, CA

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Suite of Victorian Hummingbird Jewelry

—Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

From their glass case, three hummingbirds glare,
their eyes studded cold with rubies.

Necks, slit. The arsenic, the burnt alum, the tanner's bark.
The tiny gold flared feet. The rufous crowns spiked stiff.

For the widow's silk shoulder, one bird
has been packed into a gold brooch,
two gold sheaves of leaves for wings.

Two more birds are earrings.
The breast of one is green fluorescence.
The other fades to olive near the mouth.

Gone, the nectar-lapping tongue, the frenzied hum,
the splendor-surge, the minds
that savored wild scarlet sage.

O, flutterers, pretty hummers, how
your gold stiletto beaks dazzle, how they shriek.

—Wendy Drexler, Belmont, MA

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Worcester

In Worcester, Massachusetts,
outside the Worcester Free Public Library,
there's a line of homeless people
waiting to freshen up in the library's
free public toilets. And the senior librarian
isn't happy about it. How many will borrow a book
when they're done in the toilets? she asks the junior librarian
who is returning a book of poems by Elizabeth Bishop
to the poetry shelf. Before she moved to Worcester
for the junior librarian job, the junior librarian
lived with her aunt in Greencastle, Indiana,
and didn't even know how to pronounce Worcester.
As for the homeless people, they aren't
happy about it, either. Some are heroin addicts.
And some are mentally ill. And some are both.
And some are neither. And some are here illegally
and trying to acquire English by distilling it
from the airwaves and the signage. And they would
all rather be reading their own books on their own
toilets in their own homes. Nevertheless, they love
the motion-activated faucets with sensors in them
because they need only hold up their empty hands to receive
the generous wordless warm egalitarian water flowing
over their wrists and palms and backs of their hands
like a blessing. And all of them, every last one,
would pronounce Worcester perfectly,
as a sort of benign library fine, if asked.

—Paul Hostovsky, Medfield, MA

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