Off the Coast, Maine's International Poetry Journal

Summer 2009
"Who calls the birds? / wikwimôd sibsak"
Poems


Cow

There were cows. Everywhere.
They were kept, fed
worshipped and milked.
They were let go to pasture

never mind there were no pastures.
The streets were their fields,
the market their resting place.
Food was found

or food was found for them.
They were docile, the cows,
like lazy dogs, easily led,
a comfort.

In their dark eyes rested a thousand years
of matronly honor, and so
the milk was thick, nutritiousâ€"
the best medicinal,

the sweetest treat.
They were healthy too.
Clear eyes, smooth coats,
respectable hooves, a gentle manner.

I sought them out, wanting.
I could not have enough
of the worship of cowsâ€"
sacred symbols swabbed on foreheads,

ritual washing, garlands of marigolds
brushings, feedings,
blessings touched out chanting
govinda hare gopala hare.

How unlike the poor mothers
I once saw at slaughter,
solemnly led
after years of milking service,

chained, drugged and dragged,
with growths and injuries,
used up, broken and bled.
Once, I thought I had understood

the practice of cowing the cow,
taking the calf, creating commodity.
I had never before seen beauty unbroken,
the loved, the honored, the Cow.

—Jessica Rigney, Waianae, HI


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Trying to Write a Billy Collins Poem

We eat our accustomed breakfast,
take our accustomed shower, sit for an hour
or more looking out the window.

No baby's cry rends our morning calm,
no widow comes by with a casserole,
the glass isn't shattered by a bomb,

yet no poem comes. We stare at the bookshelf
and the little landscape of souvenirs,
shell and stone, arranged on our table,

but no simile suggests itself.
This is harder than we thought.
We could boot up the computer and search

for inspiration, but disorder and public rage
happen off the edge of Billy's page
like the suicides in old Greek plays.

Already we have admitted
that we went to college, assumed
some knowledge on the part of you the reader,

exceeding our commission.
We could open the newspaper or the mail,
but that would be an admission of failure.

Up the river in an exurb Billy
is rounding off a stanza and noticing
a stripe of sunlight on his appointment book.

He imagines it as a bookmark, then a meridian.
It moves, and he reflects that we can't hold our place
in the book of time.

Soon he'll finish his poem and see that it is good.
He may ride a recumbent bicycle
to the mildly colonial shopping center,

go to the library, have a few beers
with the volunteer fire department, or engage
in a passionate affair, but we won't hear
about it--he's knocked off for the day.

—Arlene Weiner, Pittsburgh, PA


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A Cornish Witch's Divine Calling

I always hoped one or two survived
to spread the story of how my lantern's light
beaconed them through the storm
straight onto the rocks where
later I climbed down to plunder pockets
and empty trove into my oak pail.

As if the Devil himself had lured them,
they'd mumble by some kindly fire
while I was stashing jewels among my chickens.
Mine was quiet work, nor did I correct them:
I mimed Jesus, reeling in their faith
in lighthouses, their hopes for salvation.

But most times all would perish,
so skillfully I waved my light
and knew which piece of Cornwall would cleave
their greedy ships. Like God
I considered all things in morning's tide
divine. Even the drowned babies
I took home to plant in my garden.

—Joanne Lowery, Kalamazoo, MI


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Tradecraft

for Bonny Jean

When I learned to hypnotize my watch
by instructing it to stare fixedly at you
whom I swung before it
like a bell on the ghost of an animal
I had all the time in the world
to do a slow luxuriant sweep of your body
and discover no fewer than
eleven ultra-sensitive listening devices
hidden upon that cradle of espionage
mostly disguised as freckles
and all highly specialized
There's one for eavesdropping
on the ripening of apples
and the laughter that passes out of them
and into girls
One to capture the moaning of a red rose
carried in a black bag by a disreputable physician
who appears at the same time every night in a different location
in order to bleed the sea
One that turns evidence on the edges of the universe
and another that informs on the pleasures of intersecting rivulets
Finally an explanation for the way you move
as though you were dancing
with the shadow of a river
a river poured out of glass slippers
one footfall at a time
Your flesh is infused with so many strange musics
You can hear the earth praying to its inhabitants
on behalf of its departed
and luck caught in the act of changing
like giraffes nuzzling in the dark
These things are known by you as music is by rain
The sound of sunlight permeating stone
and the faintest of splashes where sorrow finally ends
There's even one for your hands touching me
like panes of louvered water
day upon day upon day upon day
and one for the deathbed confessions of mad kings
The last was set into the curve of your waist
and reproduces the influence
of candle flames upon cognac
swearing at whatever interferes with desire
Therefore my sleep must be the projector
from which that river unspools into your sleep

—Michael Larrain, Cotati, CA


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Art in America

Two middle-aged black men strain to push a thick car-sized
folded iron circle, an artwork titled Untitled, by Ellsworth Kelly,

up a loose gravel path adjacent the Hirschorn Sculpture
garden. The rubber wheels of the cart bog.

The men strain, arms and back

bulge; sweat rivers them. One wears a stained
white shirt, the other a bright new Wizard's cap. These are

hard men, but the iron, the rock, the sun are harder still.

The sculpture is worth far more than these men will
earn in their lifetimes. They

stop, rest, push on. The sun is punishing.
Adjacent to them in the garden the trickle of water

in a fountain, the trick of light

and shade on red brick, people slouched on benches
talking, eating, drinking iced beverages. The men

move slowly. Suddenly everything

is engulfed
by sirens, blistering, blinding sirens, closing in.

Even the Untitled bent iron sings, a nest
of molecular hornets becoming enraged.

The men don't stop pushing

the mammoth sculpture. They don't
even look up

from the path where their sweat drips.
They know their life is not art.

—Paul Piper, Bellingham, WA


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To Handle the Dead

I knew early I was meant
to handle the dead I held a quiet
place hidden where the dead feel

safe even from their families
even as the clots and coasts
of this life finish tearing away

first a raw sensation
then the calm
the smell of wild strawberries

their people have a right also
to their cacophonous bafflement
but my dead need hush

undistracted like walking through
a brief stand of trees where
silver fog slips among the boles concealing

their new feet from view
sometimes their hands too their histories
brushed away no tracks no turning point

no lover's eye no bed
and breakfast alone on a back street
no voice calling

the name that's now untranslatable
I must be careful then as they
feel for the next step watching

with them intimate like the stranger
at an airport in a foreign city
snowed in freed from the journey briefly

speaking a mutually foreign tongue
eating sandwiches at the same
counter breathing

the same motionless air allowed
to go nowhere stilled here
before flights out in opposite directions

—Nancy White, Cambridge, NY


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The Lobstyr

Lobstyr! Lobstyr! Turning bright
In my kettle here tonight,
Listen children to their wails
Hear the snapping of their tails.

From the fathom's depth to pot
Steamed or baked -stuffed, boiled - what?
Wash the clams or husk the corn?
Stir the coals, just keep them warm!

Split the knuckle & the claw,
Or pluck a morsel from the maw
For when the water heats to boil,
What dread flame! & What dread foil!

Pass the cracker. Pass the pick.
Melt for them some butter quick!
Where's the liver? What's this roe?
In the compost heap it goes.

When the tourists don their bibs
And wipe the butter from their lips,
Did they pull with glee the peg.
Or suck the marrow from its leg?

Lobstyr! Lobstyr! Turning bright
In my kettle here tonight,
Listen children to their wails
Hear the snapping of their tails.

—Ken Markee, Boothbay, ME


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