Maine

In 1995, Maine established a state poet laureate position, which is currently held by Stuart Kestenbaum, who was appointed to a five-year term in 2016. Kestenbaum is the author of four books of poetry, including Only Now (Deerbrook Editions, 2014).

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Poem for Adlai Stevenson and Yellow Jackets

It's summer, 1956, in Maine, a camp resort 
on Belgrade Lakes, and I am cleaning fish, 
part of my job, along with luggage, firewood, 
Sunday ice cream, waking everyone 
by jogging around the island every morning 
swinging a rattle I hold in front of me 
to break the nightly spider threads. 
Adlai Stevenson is being nominated, 
but won't, again, beat Eisenhower, 
sad fact I'm half aware of, steeped as I am 
in Russian novels, bathing in the tea-
brown lake, startling a deer and chasing it by canoe 
as it swims from the island to the mainland. 
I'm good at cleaning fish: lake trout, 
those beautiful deep swimmers, brown trout, 
I can fillet them and take them to the cook 
and the grateful fisherman may send a piece 
back from his table to mine, a salute. 
I clean in a swarm of yellow jackets, 
sure they won't sting me, so they don't, 
though they can't resist the fish, the slime, 
the guts that drop into the bucket, they're mad 
for meat, fresh death, they swarm around 
whenever I work at this outdoor sink 
with somebody's loving catch.
Later this summer we'll find their nest 
and burn it one night with a blowtorch 
applied to the entrance, the paper hotel 
glowing with fire and smoke like a lantern,
full of the death-bees, hornets, whatever they are, 
that drop like little coals
and an oily smoke that rolls through the trees 
into the night of the last American summer 
next to this one, 36 years away, to show me 
time is a pomegranate, many-chambered, 
nothing like what I thought.

Digging Potatoes, Sebago, Maine

Summer squash and snap-beans gushed
all August, tomatoes in a steady splutter

through September. But by October's
last straggling days, almost everything

in the garden was stripped, picked,
decayed. A few dawdlers:

some forgotten carrots, ornate
with worm-trail tracery, parsley parched

a patchy faded beige. The dead leaves
of potato plants, defeated and panting,

their shriveled dingy tongues
crumbling into the mud.

     You have to guess where.
     The leaves migrate to trick you. Pretend
     you're sure, thrust the trowel straight in,
     hear the steel strike stone, hear the song
     of their collision—this land is littered
     with granite. Your blade emerges
     with a mob of them, tawny freckled knobs,
     an earthworm curling over one like a tentacle.
     I always want to clean them with my tongue,
     to taste in this dark mud, in its sparkled scatter
     of mica and stone chips, its soft genealogy
     of birch bark and fiddleheads, something

that means place, that says here,
with all its crags and sticky pines,

its silent stubborn brambles. This
is my wine tasting. It's there,

in the potatoes: a sharp slice with a different blade
imparts a little milky blood, and I can almost

smell it. Ferns furling. Barns rotting.
Even after baking, I can almost taste the grit.

Maine Seafood Company

(Salt)

A LOBSTER.
           Once out of the box
           The wooden box
           The metal box
           The box, the box, the box
           Dragged up from the salt

           Things don't feel too bad

           And then they do

           And then they don't

(And waves)