Off the Coast, Maine's International Poetry Journal

WINTER 2013: "Let Me In"

Est Hodie: Solstice Invocation

This is the birth of the unconquered sun.

This is the first snow, glassy and sheer; This is the glass of the first snow.

This is the noon of my longest shadow across the glass;
This is my longest shadow thrown by the lowest sun.

This is the twilight of the longest night.
This is the night of the longest dark.

Est hodie dies natalis solis invicti:
Today is the birth of the unconquered sun.

—Joan A.W. Kimball, Concord, MA



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The Elephant's Gestation

You have your first child solely to discover
if you are capable of murder.

Every day is an experiment: can I make it cry
with just my eyes? What face will it make if
a fingertip of mustard dots its tongue?

You find new depths in yourself, so that even on
good days, you still get the bends trying to act
normal.

That thing is so helpless. Whatever you dish out,
it just takes it, propped up in a chair like a little
bread loaf.

When the real craziness comes on, you go to
a park or McDonald's. You would never act badly
in front of those who judge.

But the baby is new and has no judgment,
obviously, or it wouldn't eat till it spits up.

And at three that child is so willful, she is the penance
you will pay for the rest of your life. Everyone agrees
you're just alike.

You're ready to cross an icy country road on foot
at night. She runs ahead and falls. A car crests the hill.

You throw yourself into the road, snatch the hood of her
pink snowsuit and hurl the child into the ditch.

She cries but you're relieved because now,
breathless, snow lightly falling, the mother in you
has at last been born.

—Elizabeth Kerlikowske, Kalamazoo, MI



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No Escape

He guns the engine, just to hear it roar:
a barrel-chested, thunderous last word.
He'd slammed out of the house, but that screen door
had barely slapped. Now, sure that he's been heard,
he takes off, elbow out the window, aping
his father's driving posture, unaware
that so much of what he thinks he's escaping
has hitched a ride, has filled his tires with air,
has fueled the bellowing of his V-8,
and now glares in his windshield. Peering past
blind rage, he sees enough to navigate
around the potholes, and goes nowhere fast.
His left forearm, like that of his old man,
will always wear a slightly darker tan.

—Jean L. Kreiling, Bridgewater, MA



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Think in Contractions

The rockets
swim the river like a baseball stadium
filled with people ready to love
the long ball again.
We're here to study sad faces
painted perpendicularly
to mouths.
You think: steroids.
You think: bad decisions,
incompetent leaders
like lovers taken home, immediately
regretted, held on a while too long
anyway, so it's not so slutty.
You think in contractions,
how a face lights up your pelvis
when you dream.
4 A.M. phone calls are sent,
received in the dark.
Who's out there listening.
You think a slab of stats
explains nature,
nature of man
a blink on the ballfield,
but I think you speak without hearing
and can't understand how beautiful
the tripwire of sweat guarding your forehead
becomes when you rave.
I think: dynamite.
I think: battlefields,
and all the while the crowd cheers.

—Marvin Shackelford, Sunray, TX



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According to Aidan

Might head up Ryerson Hill on Saturday
to dig bottles. Know the old dump sites
better than most. Those mossed-over stones
show houses before people went west.
Or gave up. I keep inventory of such.

Summer days, I do some rockhounding
maybe up at the spent Finn mines
to pick aquamarine chips. Some fall apart
in your hands, sharp, but some good enough
for the border to Ruth's grave. Give some color,

like old bottles in the window: pale blue,
water-green. Make the quiet interesting.
Though last week, the Mormons, and later
the Adventists too, come up to the door.
Launched in, telling me what it all means:

death, God's will. And them standing right by
Ruth's garden, where she set verbena and mica.
She'd have smiled. That was her. I said, "Explain
the way she drowned, or that awful winter
the two cows froze. No hymns about such."

Sometimes the weather surprises, or the crops
grow better than good, that's close as I get
to converted. Or walking along stone walls
birches are strong enough to crack. All of them
doing nothing but being small in this world.

—Susanna Brougham, Salem, MA



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Bacchino Malato

After Caravaggio's self portrait as Bacchus,
in the Galleria Borghese

No wine, and the fruit is scant,
softening grapes to hold, and
barely a bunch for the table,
peaches too hard to ripen,
and not a leaf among them.
I pull a strand of ivy through the window,
twist, and Bacchus has his crown.

I wish Minnito, sleepy-eyed,
flush-cheeked, with rounded arms
were sitting in my place,
but even friends expect a fee—
and food and drink and laughter.

Now, for the face in the mirror.
I reach backward for the brush and wince.
The sheet about my shoulder slips;
I stop, secure it with a bell cord,
try to laugh. The lips twist up, but
the brow stays creased, and
yellowed eyes squint back in pain.

My palette needs more ochre,
terra verde, too, for flesh drawn tight,
discolored like the peaches.
The lines around the nose need darkening,
the shoulder more defining,
youth burned away.

Well, let this be the morning after,
when even godlings turn dull green.
And keep the lamp flame burning,
so my man of wealth will note
how every grape reflects the light
and draw his purse string open.

—Joan Roberta Ryan, Taos, NM



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When the Sea is the Other Woman

In memory of friends lost at sea

Her lunar pulse quickens.
She slides like silk into the shallows
kissing his toes so tenderly
that if I didn't know,
I would never know.

He shrieks in delight.
the tease of her caress and retreat
sizzles through the two-year-old
as Roman Candles sizzle
through black summer nights.

The explosion of excitement
puffs his delight to bravado,
chubby legs working
too deep too soon.

See how she licks up his laughter,
laps up his joy,
curls back to him for a second, sweeter kiss.

She wants him now,
but if not now,
she will wait years in the deeps for him,
his father and grandfather not enough.

She will wait until he comes
bundled and bearded against the cold,
setting hooks,
hauling nets,
trusting.
She will toss him her jewels:
iridescence of lobster, crab, cod, calamari,
the best of her cold bed
to seduce him.

Doting mistress.
Fickle lover.
One minute, heavy nets,
the next, a petulant rage
of unpredicted winds and waves
slamming,
shattering wood and bone
until he is served up on a slice
of splintered boat,
swallowed down
to where no one is found.

See how she kisses his toes so tenderly.
If I didn't know,
I would never know.

—Elaine Moynahan, Williamstown, MA



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Science

We are doing the Periodic Table
of Elements and Mia got Aluminum.
I wanted Aluminum. I'm mad at Mia
for taking Aluminum when she didn't
even want it. Not the way I did.
I really, really wanted Aluminum.
Because I like its name and its atomic
number, which is 13. Instead I got Boron
which is boring and rhymes with "moron"
and I just know somebody is going to
think of that. And everybody has to fit
their Element on an 8 x 5 index card,
with its name and chemical symbol
and atomic number on the front, and the story
of how it got discovered or isolated
on the back. Aluminum's chemical symbol
is Al, which looks like A-one, like A-plus
one. But Boron's chemical symbol is just B
which is blah, and its atomic weight is 11
which is the age of my older brother Josh
who's mean. And on top of everything Kelsey
got Carbon which is so unfair because
her father drills oil wells for a living
and she's already like the most popular girl
in the whole school and she lives in a big
house on a hill and I hate science now
because it's so unfair and it really makes
absolutely no sense at all.

—Paul Hostovsky, Medfield, MA



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Woods

Popple rots from the top. Spruce rots from the bottom. The width
of the crown corresponds to the breadth of the roots.

An old field pine makes a good windbreak. Hemlock gets shaky—
the growth rings separate.

A high canopy blocks the undergrowth. In a den of silence, trees
whistle as they fall.

Hemlock for rafters, oak for a floor, spruce for posts, popple for a
ceiling, ash (spalted) for an inner wall.

Maple for treads, beech for risers, yellow birch for a
countertop, cherry for wainscoting.

White pine for siding, gray birch for the stove, jack pine for pulp,
king's pine for masts for the fleet.

The wood was gold flushed rose. Its grain, tide-lapped sand. My
hand moved over the surface in circles as I oiled it.

The eight-foot planks joined seamlessly. It was wood yet it was
still the tree.

Though felled, bled, sawn, stacked, stickered, air-dried as
memory fled, edged, planed, sanded to satin—still, it was the tree.

Old, achingly old. 400 mya. In the center of the fossil,
radiating rows of cells. Cross-section of a trachea.

An artery for water, walled with spiral thickenings.

They drank from the vessel and were satisfied. They spread
over the continent, where they grew tall as trees.

His lips in her hair, her hair in the tree. The tree's shadow,
fallen across them, sketches the wind, overcomes them.

The tree no tree but her windblown hair, but brushstrokes
of limbs the wisps of her hair suggest.

She burrows the heartwood. He enters the dark.

It is said that Stradivari fished an oar from a sunken galley
and with it made a violin.

In truth, it's only the f-holes the instrument maker has full
control over. The resonance is in the wood.

He bites the flitch to see if it will be strong enough. Drops
it and listens for its ring.

If wood is potential, fire is a roaring eye. House throws up
its arms of flame.

Sparks seem to be writing something. Combustible
life—books, drawings, butterfly box.

The piano lid is a charred survivor. Earth's crust, thin over
magma.

In the forest, the burner's brigade is erasing the evidence,
spearing up bodies and stacking them in pyres.

Fire-witnesses swinging their chains.

With tin cups and spoons they tunnel their way toward the
trees.

All night dragging themselves through a space no wider
than their defilement.

No rain for months. Cell membranes tear away from walls.
The trachea constricts and transpiration falters.

Root hairs wither. Pores seal themselves and leaves abcise.

Where will you go, my cherry tree, for water.

—Lee Sharkey, Vienna, ME



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