Off the Coast, Maine's International Poetry Journal

SUMMER 2013: "Calling Down Lightning"

How the One-Legged Girl Across the Street Rides her Bike

First, of course, she must work on balance,
lean into the vacuum as she mounts her 10-speed,
giving her at least a chance
of getting out to the road without falling. She'll glance
quickly left and right, knowing that indeed
first, of course, she must work on balance.
Her mother has prayed some day she might dance
but knows it's foolish to mislead,
giving her at least a chance
at meeting some nice boy, marriage, kids. Finance
a nice home not far away? That's all a dad would need.
First, of course, she must work on balance:
well, all of them should. And not be discouraged in advance.
The young girl falls. No real injury, though one palm bleeds,
giving her at least a chance
to try it all again. Work hard; study abroad. France!
Anything is possible; we admire her courage to succeed.
First, of course, she must work on balance,
giving her at least a chance.

—Arthur McMaster, Greer, SC


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After the keeper hauls the hives away

you wield sheers on briars, brush, volunteers and scrub sprung
up in your year of bees, of being free. You cannot speak

the tongue, cannot speak French, or bee-hum. You are allergic
to bees, maybe not honeybees, but the humming

bee-boxes have kept you from this French hillside orchard, far
from everything but the Pyrenees that seem hung

like plums in the trees. It would be easy to die here, stung, no words
for emergency, for help!, for direction

to the orchard, phoneless, foreign-tongued. You prune away
last year's nests, alert for adders and hare and deer

half-shed and rumpled, who freeze and stare like ghosts, then huff
and hoof away, moving sweet air. The bees have been moved

to a new orchard, shifted for a time to a new route and routine until
fruit ripens and light wanes again. You will be gone

then. You kneel with saw to a thick trunk near the bare square marking
the missing hivestead. One honey bee lingers there alone,

on a green blade, hiveless, homeless, and waiting, as mute and free
as you, afraid of stings, no place to sweeten, pollinating stone.

—Teresa Stores, Newfane, VT



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The Chrome Plating Line

We would hook up large jet engine parts,
raise them with the push of a button,
move them over huge vats
and then lower them into the chemicals.

He was 64 years old, a year away from retirement
after 45 years on the chrome plating line.
When he was told to work with me, the college kid,—
I could feel—he wanted to work alone.

One day we were told to stop — move back from the line.
The cyanide man had arrived.
He wore rubber boots, a rubber apron and huge rubber gloves.
He dropped new cyanide eggs into the first vat.

After a few weeks my clothes began to disintegrate.
Little splashes ate away my t-shirt, Levi dungarees,
even my Converse All Stars started to disappear.

You couldn't take a shit in private.
Above the factory floor were 6 toilet stalls with no doors
so the foreman could catch you slacking.
Reading The Hartford Courant
was the only way to cover yourself.

He could disappear in the middle of a word—
you never caught him in the bathroom.
He could smell a foreman before I could see one.
He taught me how to disappear—like grease sucked out
of a engine part lowered into the degreaser.

He taught me how to work when there was no work.
He taught me how the chrome plating line could
eat away more than your clothes.
He taught me if you keep disappearing enough
no one would know your name.

—Garrett Phelan, Arlington, VA


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The Temptation of St. Anthony at Hampton Beach State Park

A late sun pans the ruler-straight shoreline
this spire thrusting up like a strap-on,
these four shacks snapped half-assed into place,
but then stops, opting to cash-in
on a lure snug in a statue's lap,
then showcases a gull as it struts around
after rapturously tapping into a soft drink.
I sidestep your pet--its ankles, sudsy, rump, a-steam,
half-stumbling like some fresh penitent
dumped on the street in a temple-fog
sharing his goofy smile, rash, with the sinners
and then try to rest in this shadiest of spots
where gum wrappers are pasted
like late petals to the white path,
and rosehips, aroused by their own thorns,
part again from their sorest-red ripening.
I look away, not entirely stable, to a law-beset wall,
cooling to those mock gods and their come-ons
as these bats, saturated with dusk, take
stabs at another of my so-called haloes.

—Mark DeCarteret, Stratham, NH


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American Rhetorical

I will kidnap this language and raise it as my own, bring it up in the difficult grammar of this red
living, nurse it from memories of slaughter and courage, cradle it in bone deep,
desert rock fissures and tell it the lies of its origin needed
to begin speaking of my own. It will know the names
of every destroyed nation. It will speak the sounds
of every forgotten language. It will scream the stories
of all this continent's history. It will live the blood true belief words cannot replace what has already
been lost. I will rear it
in dawn's light, an ochre painted infant, born running
and ready for battle, with tiny hands hewn for different work,
a mind hollowed for other songs and silences and a back
densely made to tenacity's tensile strength of loss and struggle.
It will learn of clan and family. It will sing of healing
and remembrance. It will fight for all that has been and will be
beautiful. It will ululate the resiliencies of those whom today thrive. I will then tell it the story of its
beginnings, that it has not been born of homeland battle and resistance, that
savage hands and dubious intent stole it from a life of prosaic cushion, that it cannot save anyone, that it has been part of and participle to atrocity time and time again. It will set fire
to the betrayed memories of misplaced hope. It will set fire
to the belief in a just world it carried. It will set fire to the page that cannot keep your secrets or our
sorrows. It will set fire to its own page.
Then I will let go, as we must of all children, as I gather, caress and comfort my progeny,
as this unwanted child looks to me for conclusion and meaning, as a thunder
silence opens above the clear space of all my inadequacies
and failures as a parent, all I can do, as I hold the blade
to its neck, is whisper into its tender ear: go and tell the truth.

—Dwayne Martine, Gallup, NM


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Clash

I'm brown.
I'm "dot not feather."
I'm "can I copy your homework?" to "your house smells like curry."
I'm arranged marriage and Kama Sutra
wrapped in a 4.0 GPA sprinkled
with saris and deep fried in curfews.
I'm the caste system and Shiva the Destroyer
and I embody the word prude.
I'm drenched in monsoon season surrounded
by an aura of Diwali lights and colorful Holi powders.
I'm burdened by expectations and held back
by traditions.
I'm expected to be a doctor but I want to heal with my words
I'm supposed to be an engineer but I want to build
self-esteems with wires of encouragement.

But I'm more than a bindi between my coffee brown eyes,
more than fabric carefully draped around the curves of my chocolate skin.
More than the intricate designs traced onto my foretelling palms
I'm more than a mispronounced name and a
number on a transcript.
I represent one clash of two cultures praying to gods with three heads and four arms as I
count down from five and wait for the labels to drop

—Tanvi Yenna, W. Des Moines, IA Youth Poet


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We might survive melting

Lamp shades scorched. The sun revealed a paunchy weather system squat on the roof. Mastadons of heat barged into back yards. They mistook us for their calves and stayed. We daubed our skin with mud. We slept in our freezers. Their breath--three blankets thick. If we leave, our leader said, the mastadons will have no reason to stay. We are not prisoners of the heat. They cried when we drove away, waving their funeral parlor fans because their ears alone were not enough. They toured the Midwest all summer, ruining our corn but never calling on us again.

—Elizabeth Kerlikowske, Kalamazoo, MI


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Desert Ecology Lesson 5: Sand Formations

Following the sand formations,
you will find barchans and dune fields,
sand deposits in depressions (read them
like coffee grounds in the bottom
of your cup), and surface sands to be
prolific prophets—wise and mystical
masters of the divine sciences.
They will assure you all shall be well,

even as the northwesterly wind
whittles away at them. Let yourself move
over the surface sands like that prevailing
shamal. Be covered by Aeolian sands
derived from the coast. Pace yourself
like those grains, advancing in leaps
to form thin sheets, humble hummocks,
barchan dunes, finally fields of serious sand.

Don't fear, the prophets of surface
sands advise, being thin and uneven,
trapped in crevices between rocks.
Let yourself provide sparse cover
for Zygophyllum quatarense
and Stipagrostis plumose.
Sand deposits in depressions,
wadis and runnels say it's all about

depth and texture of sediments,
pointing to their denser plant cover—
Hammada elegans and Panicum
turgidum. Learn from the barchans—
those crescentic dunes known to play
lullabic tunes when the shamal strums them
just right, sloping on the windward side,
sporting two cusps parallel to the wind

trend. Too mobile, they do not favor
flora growing on their bodies. Save for
Cyperus conglomeratus, which thrives
on their sides, they are barren as they
coalesce and give themselves to the dune fields.
Yet still there are concavities not covered
with sand where halophytic plants grow,
low level near the saline water table.

Be a child of the desert's sand formations.
Let their great mysteries deliver you
to something unlimited within yourself.
Catch their radiant sense of quest.
Let them fill you with astonishment.
Though they be shadowed by death,
they link the faithful to all that is
boundless and unknown, momentarily

saving us from the rising waters.
You, dear sister brother of the desert,
enter the councils of the sand formations.
As the grains rearrange themselves
at the hand of the shamal, you will hear
your name called in an unknown language
as you rise and fall with each small piece.
Winded, you will linger on the crest

of the barchan as if a child again at your
mother's breast, humbled, unwilling to admit
it must all crumble in the end. As the pellucid
surface of the desert stretches out on all sides
below you, you'll feel torn—one minute jovial,
the next forlorn—as you sense your own life
dwindling grain by grain, emptying
into the vaster space of eternity.

—Diana Woodcock, Dohar, Qatar


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I'd like to catch that landscape

I'm going to fetch Nabokov's butterfly net
I'm crossing Petersburg, vanished in childhood
With wide dream-like boulevards
I'm going up the winding staircase
A toy train in front of the door
A smattering of French more than English song
I open the door
Almost nothing inside

Just a sleeping child and a glowing butterfly

—Maria Lipiskova, Sofia, Bulgaria

Transleted by Dimiter Kenarov


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