Off the Coast, Maine's International Poetry Journal

Summer 2010 Poems

"Something New To Say To The Sea"

First Girl to Drown a Goldfish

As the carnival closes down,
carnies drop the awnings,
and Macy prospects for dimes
buried under sour midway sawdust.
In the trampled grass
next to Ball-in-the-Bucket,
she discovers spongy slugs of gold.
A single survivor flips
like a buck-fevered tiddlywink.
To rescue the gasping goldfish,
she races to the Duck Pond
and fills a discarded Sno-Kone cup.
Returning, she plops her catch.
It floats, an autumn maple leaf.
Raising the cup heavenwards,
Macy squinches and sings.
To the tune of "Amazing Grace,"
the gilt swimmer revives.

In a pigs' feet jar, Gracie swims
through Macy's fifth grade crush,
Delmus Potter, from the farm next over,
who dumps her after his bull blue-ribbons.
In sixth grade, Macy reads Moby Dick
to Gracie. By candle light,
the tiny Midas gleams bright
as the doubloon Ahab nailed
to the mast of the Pequod.
In the winter of seventh grade,
Macy's mom dies of the influenza,
and her daddy takes to drink.
That spring, he falls asleep, dead
drunk on the railroad tracks.

After the funeral, a whiskered aunt
Macy never heard of arrives
to fetch the orphan, and, No,
there ain't no room for no fool fish.
Macy refuses to go,
locks herself in the root cellar
with a few stray potatoes, parsnips,
and Gracie. Neighbors advise waiting
her out, least till morning.

All day, Macy crouches with a book,
Winesburg, Ohio, banned by the county
and, no doubt, hairy-chinned aunts.
She reads "The Tale of Godliness,"
of a grandfather who would sacrifice
like ancient men in the Bible.
In the drowse before sleep,
she bargains with God.
That night, guarded by stars,
she curls on the clay floor.

At dawn, Macy rouses.
Chinks of ancient light from east
of Eden flood the root cellar.
In the corner, a black rat snake coils,
a mouse writhing inside its gut.

Macy decides it's no sin.

For a while, Gracie eludes her hand,
but when she pulls out her fist,
she feels the cold wet spasms
throb against the lifeline of her palm.
When the throbbing stops,
she unlocks the door.
Macy does not want to cry,
but splinters of sunlight nettle her eyes,
and when she hears the cockshrill
squawk of her aunt,
she understands
gods cannot be bribed
even with the purest gold.

—donnarkevic, Weston, WV


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Blossom is an impossible word, like sorrow


and the lawn is a wide, green stretch
wade-able, maybe, but no bridges.
We'll have to get our feet wet in the salad.
"Lettuce, lettuce, borage and love," I imagine
the rabbits sing. Velvet eyes, it's all lettuce to them.

It's all trembling and fertility, choices made and
here is a life. We can only try to open a little
wider than the umbrellas tumbled to dry,
blossomed and blossoming under the generous eaves.

—Sarah Busse, Madison, WI


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Jim

The serpent shrugs and twists himself a twin.
Hooking his jawline on a jut of twig,
He writhes until he leaves a wraith of skin.

Jim knew that he had gotten powerful big,
Too big for widow women who must sell
Doughty desire downriver. But to doff
The skin that he had grown to fit so well
Wasn't in him nor nature. So Jim run off.

The island wasn't part of either bank.
Jim hid and fished. He fished and hid. He built
A camp inside a cave. He thought to thank
A God who had the gall to give him guilt.

Drowning in darkness, waking to a boat,
Cannon fire, conjuring a ghost whose slight
Shade shadowed his own blackness. Then afloat,
Rafting the river together, midnight
Errants, drifting dusk to dawn, friend to friend.
On that raft, fated to be free, oppressed
Patient prisoners like us.

        In the end
Huck left to join the savage in the West.
The river cleft the country, disappeared.
The author captured everyone but Jim
Whose freedom only caused him to be feared
By the same frauds who'd hoped to frighten him.
Jim was no snake. He couldn't shed his skin.
Some stories end so others can begin.

—Laurence Snydal, San Jose, CA



My Ocean as the Blind Man Sees It

Like chilled cream on the back of his neck, he says
Like chilled cream on the back of his neck, he says
of this morning's sheet of fog lapping in from waterside.
Instinctively—a sea coot homing in after
a long migration—he turns his face up into
the thin, buttery light that lies
on the back of the sea, along the horizon he
has never seen. In his mind, there is
no image against which to measure
this absence, only a sea
of nothingness: he can't even call it
black—he doesn't know black or red or yellow,
no pearl of sun on salt-watered ankles.
Horizons and edges, buttery light, the buoy bouncing
on the lip of a mid-swell wave—or the wave,
for that matter—are all inaccessible
to him. Well, not the wave, actually: each lick,
every beat as it reshapes, refolds, reforms
into another and another climbs inside
his ear and tunnels into labyrinths
the rest of us can't know, too distracted
by the plovers and rosehips,
the dusty crab shells in the sand, the
fluorescent green kayak a quarter mile
out. His hands play wind, his fingers rake
scores. As he composes sheet after sheet,
a transcription of sorts, his chest beats out
breath one, breath two, breath three, exhaling the salt
of Zanzibar and Honshu and Lubec he took in only
moments before, his intonation shaped by
whale vibrations, porpoise speak, eider cry.

—Annaliese Jakimides, Bangor, ME

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Sardine song #3

Falling into the soft
sea of darkness
slowly, slowly to bed
wrap me in a blanket of fish
shining in the water like stars
like light from a million years
below some vast ocean sky
where there is nothing
nothing to hold on to—
flashes, and then
gone

—Gary Lawless, Nobleboro, ME


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