Off the Coast, Maine's International Poetry Journal

SUMMER 2014: "Everything to Purpose"

Life over Description

Title given by the Monks of Wat Mixayaram, Vientiane, Laos

The village held a vote; it was decided
to expel the poets—for various
infractions, mainly their refusals
to stop describing work, and start working.

Beyond that, they were processing details
of the drought's death-dry chokehold on the dirt,
instead of spreading manure and seeds.

When the rains came, they got drunk, all of them,
in a thatched roof hut by the small river,
wondering aloud if rain fell in sheets
or each droplet contained a universe.

The rest of the village weaved in their homes,
consumed by the doing, not by its meaning,
or how it looked from the eyes of houseflies.

The temple was no longer a turquoise-
crusted palace of spirits, it was quiet
and merely felt, not catalogued or thought of,

and the fields didn't echo with voices
expounding images—the mountain backdrop!
the devastation of earth! the slow crawl

of millipedes! There was simply sky,
work to be done, air to be inhaled,
an unhindered life over description.

— Brendan Walsh, Avon, CT


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"How Do I Know When I've Suffered Enough?"

— question asked by Jennifer Hall-Farley

Do not expect too much of your feet
. They itch, they tickle, they ache,
they strain to curl inside your boots
like pink armadillos protecting themselves
from the car that crushes them.
Forgive them their murderous rampage
through damp grass over acorn hats,
jagged bits of rock & glass,
bee stings inciting violence to your toes.
There is always one more indignity,
one last howl burning its brand in your heel.
Try not to feel sorrow for newer wounds.
They will have their days to languish
in their lavish scars. Today,
forgive each suicidal lunge
your littlest rapscallion takes
against a corner of the coffee table.
Allow your fearless ankle to dance
the Twist. When you think
you have suffered enough,
you will suffer more—
juking, jumping & walking away.
Your feet betray you. Let them
have their moments. Bathe them
in the trickle of a stream
scented with coppery oils.
Lead them, powdered & regal,
along the broken streets
to the guillotine.

— Ace Boggess, Charleston, WV


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Medicine, here.

Oxygen streams from the wall
through a tube to your nose.
The lace of your lungs occluded
or gone, the power of your
diaphragm endangered.

The pole on wheels,
with hooks in the 4 directions
slips rudimentary fluids,
spiked with reductive relatives
of earth's compounds,
directly into your river.

There is no smoke here,
no drum, no song.
If you receive messages, any messages
beeps, buzzers, blather
drown them out.

They plow you
every ritual properly dispatched,
keeping you away
as long as possible
from the boatman.

Someone watches your fire blip
across a screen.
They will come with iron paddles
to reignite it
should this
last bit flutter.

— Karin Spitfire, Belfast, ME


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Aunt Em

"Help us out today and find yourself a place where you won't get into any trouble."
Wizard of Oz (1939)

The things I've seen—dust
stirred up from tires
like smoke after a bombing, the black

boots and shiny merchandise
of salesmen passing through
en route to Salt Lake or Los Angeles,

men with their mouths full of gold, suitcases
saddled with pistols and time pieces, men
with tobacco-stained fingertips

and gasoline breath, who'll leave you
where they found you: in the barn,
in the pen, men whose wives'

red lips ignite in your face, spit "Get your
pig-sweat hands off my husband." And just last week
Sheriff found two girls hog-tied

and strangled out by the river, their bodies
bloomed with bruises, their lips split
red on the rocks—so you understand

why I can't just let her wander, stroll
down the sole-paved road of this county
with her wet-lipped

whistles and her wind-blown skirts, her fingers
strumming the neighbor's picket fence
until they catch splinters. She needs

a distraction from all those Ford pick-ups
and slaughter trucks careening past
in silvery swirls of exhaust. She needs

a horseshoe to scrape, a well
to pump, the grounding weight
of the water buckets she carries to the trough.

— Christina Clark, Durham, NC


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The Boat Man's Wife

Sucking halved limes in my mouth. This is a sourness that must be borne.

Tell me about fish, but he does not.
Brings them to me to be washed and split. Glimmering presents from his other world.

Silver arrows,

sinking to our stomachs. Unbidden visions of dark water and mud. He smells of salt.

Fever swims through my veins. I plunge my hands into the fish water.

See the child that we have.
Lives still in silence and coos. The child is a waiting. Woven in free days and spare minutes. He wants ten of them, wait-children,

to surround me and wash me with their water-cries.

He rises from the waves like a dog, crying out and shaking off the water. When I would have him as a pelican,

gulping and diving. There is the baby by my side at night.
My days are a boat too, pitching and gliding from one wall to the other.

— Lillian Kwok, Nyköping, Sweden


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Underworld

Sealed in our cellar every night
my brother quickly lost count
of reps as he wheezed and writhed

like an electric weasel
atop a black aluminum bench,
thrusting firsts toward heaven

while rusty York plates clanged
like chains on a Victorian
ghost. He groaned red prayers

to the patron saint of dumbbells
who squeezed all the baby fat
and smiles from his face,

gnarled his fingers into brambles
so he couldn't dial a phone,
expanded the nave of his ribcage

into a massive temple of self-
loathing, the swarm of doubts inside
buzzing so loudly they drowned out

dulcet tones of our mother
when she tried to call him
back to the world above.

— Noel Sloboda, York, PA


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Cronan Beach

At Cronan beach down in Broinn
Not so far that I could walk
From home

Suzanne a mermaid in the salt water
With her red hair
Like to sing with no harmony

Gordan a soccer player
With a ball in his hand
Listens faithfully to her fresh song

Tiana is selling lemonade on the main beach
Lemonade with lime
And blackberries, all frozen and adored

Night time
Light fades and the moon
Shines from the sky
Shines from the lemonade cart
The soccer ball, and Suzanne's long red hair

— Amaya Cary, Hudson, MA, Youth Poet


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Epilogue to an Old Story

A year gone by, one Saturday they came
wandering back to town, the daughter, son,
or foundling through our folly lost, the same
children the piper stole, some one by one
like stray dogs, some in herds like pigs. Each face
was a broken heart's desire returned, but they
refused to speak to, nor would they embrace
their parents, and so joy became dismay.
No sympathy for father or for mother,
they shuffled through our homes and fields with eyes
filled with the faerie absence of another
world, and ours they only would despise.
Sorrow revived. Yet even this we might
have borne had not the rats returned that night.

— Duane Caylor, Dubuque, IA


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Veterans' Benefits

Sky full of ghosts,
a war in mind,
I hear tactical voices.
Been discharged three years,
feel empty as a vacant apartment.
Still got fumes in my blood.
Sometimes, I hear fizzing, too,
like positive and negative leads, touching,
feel like I'm breathing nails.

Before she left,
my wife said she started to dream
my nightmares,
said she's seen brighter eyes
in the faces of the dead.

Now, my car is my living room.
Got Rhode Island plates,
smallest state in the union.
Can barely see it on aerial recon.

I pull into the parking lot of this Cineplex,
put on my night-vision goggles.
Even if my blood's been hypnotized,
no one can find me. Not here.
I wait for a while,
tune the car radio to the designated station,
decipher the grey, static hum.

A good Marine, I await
further orders.

— Brad Rose, Wellesley, MA


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Death Wore Rose Colored Glasses

The arms keep vigil over your bed
ticking away the minutes and hours
in military time.
Children, unfamiliar to you
sit nearby peeling onions
and wiping each other's tears
while sparrows
fling their small brown bodies
against the window.
Clowns bother you
blocking your limited line of sight
with their big red noses
tugging at the tubes in your throat with their white
gloved hands
and the onion peelers
approach your bedside tentatively
adjusting the thin flannel blanket covering your legs
and even putting a pair of pink fuzzy socks on your cold feet.
At night the sparrows give way to bats that somehow
find their way in and hang upside down
on your IV pole.
The clowns poke and prod--
their giant rubber shoes squeaking so with each step
that you cannot rest.
At least the onion peelers have said goodnight
leaving a mess of papery skins on the floor
unaware that you'll be gone by morning. p

— Barbara Caceres, Kent, WA


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