Off the Coast, Maine's International Poetry Journal
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Maine Literary Awards Short Works, Poetry Competition Winner

Blue Canoe

Because I screamed at a baby.

Because I lay down in the kitchen.

Because a witch began building a rough shack in my chest,

and I felt autumn on my face as though
an axe. Because I dreamed

over again of a windmill,
rotted through. Because those days

were rusted blades, hard and dark
and turning to thoughts

of abandonment. Because of this,

I filled a prescription
for the tiny blue canoe,

and then became it.


This pale canoe is very smooth. It likes me. It likes food.
I pack a picnic and take it to the old island of my childhood

where there's no char or barbed wire but pines again,
tall and parental, paths of balsam leading to coppery stretches

of sun-warmed rocks. A hawk shrieks in the background.
In the blue canoe there's always background—it muffles to ducks

on the vast lake. The hawk disappears as I wished, and the canoe
bumps lullabies against shore rocks. The island is not the sadness it was.

Not the spot of scorch, but earth softly overcast,
and look, something like happiness: the picnic.


Thank you, little tablet, for not. Not spurring
the fearful circle of the windmill. Not permitting

the witch her incantations. And for allowing only
my waking and going forth into what each day

will happen. None of it is now alarming. Thank you
for that, for mitigating the ricochet. Thank you

for letting me sit, a sack of wet grain that makes sounds
of comfort toward my children as they shriek and refuse.

Thank you too for refusing

my hands to grip and hurt.

It is for this                 I'm adrift                  in the blue canoe.


And yet today my daughter placed her face to my face,
and this morning my son ran naked in goggles down the hallway.

Last night my husband's body pressed taut and urgent,
he ran his thumb firmly from my lips to sternum.

And all the while I thought How nice. Yes, memorable.
From my blue canoe, I could see it all looked good.


A month in the blue canoe. A year.
Who cares? There's cool water here.
Rocking, as if a swaddled infant. Yet

infants scream. They rage and fear
and love. They bite the nipple then smile
crookedly. Month after month, they gain

in voice and strength. They learn
to swim, first with air-filled wings,
then, joyfully, without.


I like to imagine that when Akhmatova claimed I am not yet cured of happiness, she also perched
on the tiny prow of a simple boat where behind her in the trough of safe enough, there lay
the modest pillow, light blanket, beige lunch.

But before her stretched a dark lake, murky and uncertain, in which she could see, peering down,
spiraling roots of lilies, run through with light. I like to imagine her paddling over to pound
on side of the blue canoe:      Can't you see?                  Run through,                and with light!


Could I be done with this—miniature vessel, pale replica
of help? The mild pill makes too mild: duck of hawk

(that might still poke its shriek—
hot yellow light!—
through the gauzy background)

so maybe. . . or not. This sack
of wet grain knows how it was made:

and not yet, not yet
                                                                                              of the windmill.

Rachel Contreni Flynn was born in Paris, raised in a small town in Indiana, and now lives with her family in Gorham, Maine. Her second full-length collection of poetry, Tongue, won the Benjamin Saltman Award and was published in 2010 by Red Hen Press. Her chapbook, Haywire, was published by Bright Hill Press in 2009, and her first book, Ice, Mouth, Song, was published in 2005 by Tupelo Press, after winning the Dorset Prize. She was awarded a Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2007. Her work has often been nominated for Pushcart Prizes, and she received two literature grants from the Illinois Arts Council. Rachel is a graduate of Warren Wilson College MFA program. She currently teaches poetry at Colby College as a Visiting Assistant Professor and serves on the editorial board of the Beloit Poetry Journal in Farmington, Maine. She was Gorham's Artist in Residence 2012-2013.

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