These poems by Mainers appeared in “Notes from an Open Book,” a monthly e-newsletter of the Maine Humanities Council.

SMELT SHACKS

By Joseph Coleman

The frost-heaved road lined

with cord on cord of wood

weaved down to River Bend Smelt-

Camps. The office had a roaring fire;

sixty dollars to fish the tide

in a little tin smelt shack.

An old man held out two packets

of bait; sea-worms sprinkled with seaweed

rolled loosely in wet mud-

stained paper towels.

“The key,” hacked a toothless woman

hunched in a corner, taking deep drags

off a Doral Gold, “is to cut the bait

into tiny pieces; change

the bait when the bait turns white;

change the bait, that’s the key!”

Ignoring her, the old man said,

“Start with two turns up from

the bottom and stagger the lines.

Try one six feet below the ice.

Did you bring a knife to cut the bait?”

“The key is to change the bait,”

the old fish hag cackled.

“Change the bait, change the bait!”

echoed from her corner as we made

our way out onto the ice.

A row of twelve smelt shacks,

with steep peaked tin roofs

and walls of torn black tarpaper,

followed the natural

bend of the river.

At the base of each shack,

hay bales, cut in the golden salt

marshes of late summer,

rotted into relentless mood

shifts of the ice. Pulsing

inside each shack, rusted iron

wood stoves crackled hot

with dry white pine and beech.

Each side of the floor had a trough

of open water, emerald-green

water, like the brackish

water off Porters Landing

in summer – diving deep into

cold black, arching spines

to a sun-shafted surface….

Hung above each trough, a row

of six strings and sharp hooks

wrapped neatly around wooden pegs.

I cut the bait.

Not your dignified earthworms

used for catching brook trout

in the excited waters of early spring,

but filthy mud-worms

from the flats,

with hundreds of squirming legs.

The rusty knife the old man

lent me tore them into small

chunks, squirting blood everywhere.

I baited the tiny hooks,

staggering each one

with different turns

on the pegs.

Drunk men down the way yelled

“Smelts! Smelts on! Smelts on!

they’re runnin’ boys! They’re runnin’!”

followed by hoots and yelps….

but there were no smelts running,

there was no action, there was nothing

but deep booms and moans

from under an aching ice,

bruised ice heaving

from a rising tide,

anxious ice from a nervous

breakup of a tilting earth.

 

ALLEGIANCE

By Karen Spitfire

I tried to lie on the crumbly

red granite of Passamaquoddy Bay

to listen, to join the great flowing

currents, rip tides, whirlpools,

to embrace the St. Croix,

Cobscook, reversing falls

lean into the curves thru Sipayik,

longed to paddle the grand lakes,

around Motahkomikuk, Spedneck,

undo the arbitrary lines

between homelands.

But the pink granite of Penobscot Bay,

the resonant slow thunk

pulled me back to the high rounded nubs

leapfrogging across it, Schoodic,

Cadillac, Megunticook, my hips

molding more easily around the

archipelago protecting the Passagassawaukeag,

Naskeag and Brooklin, my blade

recognizing the Upper West Branch rills,

Chesuncook, and the long flow

out to Isle au Haut.

 

DREAM 1

By Kifah Abdulla

I dreamt of a small window

Through it flows clean air

Looking over a blue sky

White clouds travel through it

Flocks of birds pass by like air

I dreamt of a small window

The size of my hand

Overlooking a sea

My eyes travel in it

Into distant waves of blue

The yellow sun comes

Awakening the morning

And the night comes, inlaid with light

A window into which the snow whispers

Suspend in it, the moon and the rain

Into it flow the colors of autumn

And in spring, the fragrant buds

A small window, in which I count

My mornings and my evenings

Nesting in it are my memories

I cultivate in it lush dreams

I dreamt of a small window

The size of my hand

I look from it to see my sweetheart

When she comes from afar

She waves to me

That she is coming soon,

Carrying between the folds of her heart

Happy news

A small window overlooking

Onto the rest of a new age

I dreamt in a place where

My one and only dream was,

And all that I wished for

Was to have a small window

The size of my hand

I dreamt


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