Off the Coast, Maine's International Poetry Journal

SUMMER 2012: "Sparkler Circles"

First Cello Lesson: Age 66

"Hug it," she says, "Open your shoulders."
But we've barely been introduced.

With a new lover leaning awkwardly
at my breast, I grasp the bow

thumb on the frog that isn't—
cramps creeping into creaking joints.

"Now flop your fingers over
like bananas", she instructs—

I lay the haired thing down on A,
to a squeak of complaint

the piano never gave me.
It's more highly-strung I think—

glancing between my legs, I stroke,
steering between the bridge that spans no water

and the finger board that holds no fingers—
the bow skates lightly on the string—

screeching scratching in a
catfight clipped from a comic book—

Pure bravado propels me—
I scuff from string to string

my sights set on a twinkling star.
"Five years", she says, "You'll play with Yo-Yo Ma ."

Ilene Millman, Hillsborough, NJ

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Genius Is Only Good for What It's Good For

Stocks in the South Sea Company climbed to 1,000 British pounds before
falling to nothing in 1720. A massive amount of money was lost.

The stiff who breaks his back to make ends meet
believes if he were smarter he'd be rich.
He'd climb out of his rut and find his niche.
More brains would put him in the driver's seat.
Soon he'd be getting places on The Street.
Going for broke would go without a hitch.
He'd toss the T-shirt printed "Life's a Bitch."
He'd wear the one declaring "Life is Sweet."

Sir Isaac Newton, though, found out too late
that he was bright enough "to calculate
the motions of celestial spheres, but not
the madness of the people." He too bought
shares in the soaring South Sea Company,
ignoring what he knew of gravity.

Alfred Nicol, Newbury, MA

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Poem on the Death of a Small Child

Zum erstaunen bin ich da. —Goethe

Some will ask
what was he doing here at all?

One house full of sleeping,
another of grief.
My part, to rise again and again,
keeping the chimney warm.

One day the stories the children
tell will be astonishing.
How woods in new snow are luminous.
How recent the ice age seemed
this morning.

The earliest elephant
was the size of a pig.
Improbable wooly mammoth
would wander the world again,
stuffing itself with its snout,
grinding up grasses with molars
the size of curbstones.

Why didn't the awful troll
under the bridge have a name?
And when did the flying dinosaurs
learn to sing?

When there were tall women
in the house, he chewed their hair.
When there was milk,
he was the nearest mouth.

When the meteor struck,
it was a darkening event
that changed the world.

Daniel Lusk, Burlington, VT

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This cup must know its cracks
will never let go
struggles the way a spider
begins as a single thread
and water not yet water

--you sip so the rim
weakens from inside and the Earth
empties, lies motionless
left to hide among the afternoons
although you drink from the dirt
helpless to dry
without your lips under it

--this cup can't go on
and the spoon overhead
circling tighter and tighter
uncertain where to stop

--mouthful by frayed mouthful
you flow into a great river
already leaving
are carried along for later
as if the sky was once your flesh
won't loosen its hold
though you keep filling the cup
with flowers, sunlight
more and more flowers.

—Simon Perchik, Hampton, NY

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Missive from the Wilderness

for Lilly Belle Easterly, age 19, Red River, Texas, 1889

Dear Despair, I wake again from the watery dream -
crash of cascades in a canyon of rock, my body
billowing among the boulders, oh Lamentation,

and I cannot see the shore. Two weeks ago,
we ferried across the Mississippi, oh Loss,
and I'll not see my mama anymore.

Dear Desolation, the stars begin to fade
and in the east, oh, Emptiness, the sun
takes up again its searing purpose overhead.

I have told my husband I will go no farther.
Oh, Dread, the child grows heavy in my belly,
the mule is lame and I cannot go on.

Dear Inexorable, dear Unutterable,
there is nothing here of home,
no slow green Nolachucky flowing down

along the gentle Appalachians, no evening
fiddles on the porch, no sweet lilac,
no sassafras for tea, oh, Heartache.

Only this brown gully, these wide prairies,
and what my mama gave me while she wiped
her tears and could not speak:

A Dutch oven, seasoned with the fat of two hogs.
Recipes written in her hand.
A bolt of gingham. Needles. Scissors.

A butter mold her father made.
Ten pounds of flour milled from the field.
A pound each – salt and sugar, three of coffee.

The planes my grandfather used to build the house just where the river bends,
his strong arm smoothing timbers straight and long.
A Bible, all our names inscribed, births, deaths.

She gave me all those things, oh, Voice
in the Wilderness, to bring here where there are
no cows to milk, no trees tall enough for timber.

I languish here among the thistles and mesquite,

oh, Mercy, oh, Refuge. Remember me in exile, dear Supplication. Hear my voice.

—Kathryn Nelson, Middletown, NJ

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In 1919 my grandfather carved
the lettering for both Carnegie and Frick,
clear, clean, and crisp as the ten commandments.
In '37 my old man chiseled Mellon's stone.
I visited it once.
Rain-spattered dirt and dead leaves
dirtied the slate-gray stone.
Just like everyone else's.
My son, a computer software engineer,
tells me I'm the master of a dying art,
then laughs. I don't see the humor.

When I hold the chisel
and the brass-capped mallet,
I feel the calluses of my forefathers,
how soon they disappeared
from the census, how with each tap
I journey closer to the end,
how white lung chips away at my last breath,
and how the lilies of the field
are the hardest flowers to carve.

—Donnarkevic, Weston, WA

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face up
in the
I drain
a crescent
of its hard
the bone
of its wings.

—Kenneth Frost , Wilton, ME

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