Off the Coast, Maine's International Poetry Journal

Winter 2011 Poems
"Souls at the Gates of Paradise"



Double Doors

Wet, I entered the world, blue streak
pressed between my mother's lips,
carrying the scroll of origin
in my heart which told
how many pigs and ducks
I would own
and showed a portrait of my beloved.

All of this was known
before a trumpet announced my birth,
before my mother wrapped me.
She taught me what she knew of geometry
and how to stitch curtains.

Later, there would be a daughter,
music and grief
and eventually my end would come
as the scroll predicted.

And Ra would snuff the air,
swallow back bones,
and spit out the day.
The great ones would quake
at that huge voice. .

The double doors of the night bark
would open
and marsh birds hang overhead.
Women would carry urns
of bread and beer
through a corridor of incense
to the coffin.

where secrets against my enemies
would be inscribed,
a walking stick provided
for my easy journey
past jars of green and black paint
to decorate the royal eyes
watching over each step
between the worlds. .

—Carolyn Gregory, Jamaica Plain, MA


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Falling Whistles

Eleven and men, blued steel
blackening the palms
of their hands—ashen knuckles wrung.

numb, blades of ruzi
obscuring the yellows
of their eyes in the pre-dawn. .

Let no one claim the young
lack patience, or malice. .

A boy of four, too small to carry
a rifle, blows frantically,
stands pointing. One shrill note.

sets black-crowned night herons
loose from purple mangosteen, murder of wings
silencing the amassing brass.

—Clint Garner, Missoula, MT


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The Heat of a Mother's Dance

Two teen sisters gab on a rural porch, dividing the world's offerings
between them, as a younger brother stood behind with wooden matches.
Strike. Burn. Tossed fire in a lush green valley in the 1930's where

The air was moist but not moist enough to quench the thirst of girls in a rush
to cleave mother's apron strings. Somewhere else they lamented,
not here amid bushes of ripe raspberries speckled with ticks waiting
to draw their sweeter, pulsing pulp of life.

One sister brushed away a glow in her hair, kissed the burn to her hand.
Strike. Burn. Toss him off the porch. Stop it, sisters sang in harmony as

Flames needled a new hem on her light-as-air summer dress of cotton kindling,
as she slapped the bite of heat - she, now a sunrise on earth, rose,
as siblings fanned her behind like a naughty girl, urging on a crazy dance inside her dress,
until she became a glowing gypsy flailing in flight, as oxygen-ribbons of flame fired
and fed her frenzied twirls and whirls, until her ankles crossed and she tumbled
to beg on knees; her hands pounding her fervent chest for alms as

The screen door slammed above her wounded howls in a woods
as wings of a dewed bird, mother's wet-apron, descended
to swaddle a daughter once more; to cool her, to coo-coo her
until she no longer need dream of moving away, but she did dream;
and one day she left the ticks behind in their tangled bushes
and walked toward future embraces where

Her children looked upon her with each stuffing of her bra
after her warm baths and sweet smelling talcs. She did not fear
letting them touch her breast, transformed into flattened, gnarly, melted tangles
of skin decorated with lattice swirls and bumpy browns, crossed and woven
by thick paths of meandering pinks nestled in withered weeds of white, where
her little brown nipple centered itself in the inferno's landscape; a dry acorn
on parched earth, forever waiting for the fertile nourishment of milky soil.

—Frances Drabick, Eastport, ME


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After the Funeral with Edward Hopper's Nighthawks

Charley pours their coffee,
tells them they look good.
But they know they are just a couple of stiffs,
mannequins with the hangers still in,
too-much-make-up caked on razor-sharp faces.
They lean on the right angles of their ennui.

He never did like that suit.
Too blue for a funeral,
shirt the color of families laughing under an azure sky,
all wrong for sorrow.
His hand, like yesterday's haddock,
scissors an unlit Chesterfield,
smoke of soldiers
and those who wish they were.

She laments that she has no purse
from which to pull a silver cigarette case,
as she fondles their only book of matches.
Her hair was never this color of carrots
or harlots casing Times Square.

If only they could burn their tongues
on the steaming coffee in mugs
white like calla lilies.
If only they had a gun, they could
rob this man with just a back
and nursing a glass of guilt.
Just for a laugh.
Charley would never tell.

If only they had a car,
not wrecked when he looked away to adore her hair,
moonlight shading it the color of persimmons
as she threw her head back,
laughing her brash red conceit.

—Kim M. Baker, Warwick, RI


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February, Maine

Winter sun
with its
glass gloves
wrings the geranium's
neck
slowly
slowly

—Kenneth Frost, Wilton, ME


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The Piano Mover

The hunchback piano mover said
hope blurs reality better than dope,
cheap, priceless, addictive as coke.

Up. They lifted her rear leg up,
and he amputated the ebony limb.
Priest never paid my utilities.

Donate nothing. Charity begins
in the bedroom. See my house
is full of children and grandma.

OK. He removed her second leg
and she rolled on her back
without a groan. Quilted gray,

strapped in bed, six of them
lifted her again. The hunchback
set a four wheel dolly in place.

Ready to roll. Pianos don't complain,
and they can't move themselves.
As long as someone plays, I got a job.

—Brett Roth, Seekonk, MA


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