Off the Coast, Maine's International Poetry Journal

SUMMER 2011: Poems
"Taming the Tides"


Tunisia

for LB January 2011
My host-mother asks me to please give the poet a stir. Her English is raw, my Arabic shaky. We live in a world of malapropisms. A sightless head emerges through the bubbles, teeth intact. It looks about as happy as me; both of us caught in an uprising, both in hot water. An optimistic little thought; it might be stock. Quickly pessimism counterbalances; stock is plural and that is one sheep. Laila calls out, stir gentle, you not dentist, teeth stay in. I mutter my mantra, I will enjoy, I will enjoy. Tonight I will enjoy sheep's head, with teeth.

—Ruth Arnison, Dunedin, New Zealand



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Dusk the Day Flora Was Laid to Rest

Here you stand,
stopping to note
how light pins the willow
into horizontal waves,
and how sedum rise,
cheeks ruddy and studded
with glass beads of bees,

who, too, feel the urgency,
their legs thickening
with the last pollen
of the year.

Everything tastes restless
and singed with gold,
speaking of movement
and subtle ways light
tucks into crab apple leaves.

Dusk presses fire
into blue Perovskia spires,
stops to say,

"Gather your young.
Make peace in ways
that will bring the sun
down to its amber knees,
and be still,
as sky drifts into night."

—Jean Howard, Salt Lake City, UT



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The Rise and Fall

A marsh hawk over the field
holds, firm in her beak
a field mouse by the neck
as carefully as a mother
cat would carry a kitten
somewhere it couldn't go
by itself and the field mouse
is lifting all four legs
like a kitten who knows it's going
to be where it belongs
now in a higher place
where it will find again
(as it did under the grass)
how milk and fur and blood
and bones and feathers fly
and fall and rise again
and come to their nests together.

—David Wagoner, Lynnwood, WA



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Tonight, the Stars

open again with the same primal
blue of dusk. Earth succinct

in its ancient inceptions. A moth
on my windowsill spreads its soft wings—

each a fossil of finer urgencies.
Not just for flight, but the mask

of eyespots spanning the wingspread.
Never mind nature's particulars

for symmetry, or how the bald sockets
came to align on dorsal surfaces, then

eclipsed with moon-shaped pupils big enough
to startle the birds from their hunger.

And if not false eyes, why not a song or fangs?
Why not quills or a carapace of abalone?

Why not a bone tongue to pierce the apricots,
or a domesticity willing to be combed and collared?

Why not a resistance to the heckling lamplight
which will shred those wings by morning?

—Laura Sobbott Ross, Sorrento, FL



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Der Abenteuerer



I

Wenn er unter jene, welche waren,
trat: der Plötzliche, der schien,
war ein Glanz wie von Gefahren
in dem ausgesparten Raum um ihn,

den er lächelnd überschritt, um einer
Herzogin den Fächer aufzuheben:
diesen warmen Fächer, den er eben
wollte fallen sehen. Und wenn keiner

mit ihm eintrat in die Fensternische
(wo die Parke gleich ins Träumerische
stiegen, wenn er nur nach ihnen wies),
ging er lässig an die Kartentische
und gewann. Und unterließ

nicht, die Blicke alle zu behalten,
die ihn zweifelnd oder zärtlich trafen,
und auch die in Spiegel fielen, galten.
Er beschloß, auch heute nicht zu schlafen,

wie die letzte lange Nacht, und bog
einen Blick mit seinem rücksichtslosen
welcher war: als hätte er von Rosen
Kinder, die man irgendwo erzog.

II

In den Tagen - (nein, es waren keine),
da die Flut sein unterstes Verlies
ihm bestritt, als wär es nicht das seine,
und ihn, steigend, an die Steine
der daran gewöhnten Wölbung stieß,

fiel ihm plötzlich einer von den Namen
wieder ein, die er vor Zeiten trug.
Und er wußte wieder: Leben kamen,
wenn er lockte; wie im Flug

kamen sie noch warme Leben Toter,
die er, ungeduldiger, bedrohter,
weiterlebte mitten drin;
oder die nicht ausgelebten Leben,
und er wußte sie hinaufzuheben,
und sie hatten wieder Sinn.

Oft war keine Stelle an ihm sicher,
und er zitterte: Ich bin - - -
doch im nächsten Augenblicke glich er
dem Geliebten einer Königin.

Immer wieder war ein Sein zu haben:
die Geschicke angefangner Knaben,
die, als hätte man sie nicht gewagt,
abgebrochen waren, abgesagt,
nahm er auf und riß sie in sich hin;
denn er mußte einmal nur die Gruft
solcher Aufgegebener durchschreiten,
und die Düfte ihrer Möglichkeiten
lagen wieder in der Luft.

—Rainer Maria Rilke


The Adventurer

I.

And as he strolled among the truly real
(an "urgent" man, he only seemed),
the glint of danger he could feel
in that great space became a hint that gleamed.

Smiling, he crossed the room so he could hand
a Duchess back her fallen fan, warm still:
a fan—just now obedient to his will—
he'd seen her drop. When no one came to stand

beside him in the window (where the park
went wisping by, out in the dream-like dark,
when it would show itself sometimes, a ghost),
he sauntered toward the cards and made his mark:
he never left; he never lost.

He held the gaze of everyone inspecting
him in a doting or a doubting way,
straight on, or at what mirrors were reflecting.
He had decided not to sleep today,

just like last night, and so he turned each stare
away with his gaze—neither love nor scorn,
but more as if he had, oh, children born
of roses someone's raising, off somewhere.

II

In those days—no, they were not days—and as
the waters fought him (who would own
his deepest dungeon, just as if it was
not his?), against its vaults he rose,
where seas were used to crash against the stone.

Suddenly, he recalled again a name,
one that he'd carried back in times gone by.
Again he realized that when they came
back to his lure, such lives would fly

to him: dead lives still living-dead, still warm.
He saw that he—quick; threatened by some harm—
could live through lives like these, inside
them. Or that they were half-lived lives he knew
that he could raise and give new meaning to,
made whole by purpose he supplied.

Often, he knew that nothing was secure,
and so he shook: "I am . . . ; I've been . . . ."
One moment later, though, he was as sure
as if he'd been the lover of some queen.

There always was someone's existence he
would need to capture: some boy's destiny—
fates never risked; lives never put in play;
wares jettisoned and treasures thrown away,
but taken up by him where they had died.
Each time he met that cemetery dare—
to cross the graves of those long given up—
the scent of all their prospects' future scope
hung once more in the very air.

—translated by Len Krisak, Newton, MA


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Die Greisin

Weiße Freundinnen mitten im Heute
lachen und horchen und planen für morgen;
abseits erwägen gelassene Leute
langsam ihre besonderen Sorgen,
das Warum und das Wann und das Wie,
und man hört sie sagen: Ich glaube -;
aber in ihrer Spitzenhaube
ist sie sicher, als wüßte sie,
daß sie sich irren, diese und alle.
Und das Kinn, im Niederfalle,
lehnt sich an die weiße Koralle,
die den Schal zur Stirne stimmt.
Einmal aber, bei einem Gelache,
holt sie aus springenden Lidern zwei wache
Blicke und zeigt diese harte Sache,
wie man aus einem geheimen Fache
schöne ererbte Steine nimmt.

—Rainer Maria Rilke


The Old Woman

The white-frocked friends who've gathered at mid-day
are laughing, listening, planning their tomorrows.
Some placid folk stand only steps away,
slowly considering their special sorrows—

the whys and whens and hows of them—and you
can catch them as they voice their I believes—;
but in her lace cap, she perceives
with certainty, as if she knew,

that they're in error, one and all.
And then her brow begins to fall;
her chin ends resting on her shawl
(some bone-white coral clasps the hem).

But once, though, when she hears a laughing phrase,
her two eyes spring wide open in a gaze
that shows the brilliance of a cold, hard blaze—
the way a lock-sprung secret drawer displays
a beautiful old heirloom gem.

—translated by Len Krisak, Newton, MA



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