Although no one medium can fully capture the nature or essence of Maine, few Maine poets can resist trying. We suggest a leisurely journey through this sampler of Maine poetry. It features poems about Maine people and Maine places as well as other, harder to categorize aspects of Maine life. Kate Barnes, David Adams, Sylvester Pollet, and Gus Bombard are representative of the subjects and strategies used by Maine poets today.

Kate Barnes of Appleton: Maine Poet Laureate Emerita

Three Poems

Echoes From The Land

Echoes from the land, hear the echoes from the land! -
the howling of wolves, and the touch of an Indian hand
on the bow string, where a big cow moose runs thrashing
through the marsh; or is that a black bear crashing
where blackberry rushes stretch out their thorns to sting
the reaching finger? But now the echoes ring
with the Song of the Stars: "For we are the stars which sing,"
they say, "and hunt the bear around the pole
of the northern sky, and redden the leaves each fall
with her blood, only to see her come from her den,
every year in the spring, alive once again! -
as the land is alive, our dark mother beneath our feet,
from who we are born, to whom we return complete
with our length of days ..." and then the chant drops low;
the shadowy people get up quickly and go
off under the pines as lightly as deer.

But what are these new sounds that we suddenly hear? -
echo of axes, echo of hammer and nail,
the plough meeting stone, the milk that froths in the pail,
the voices of homestead and village, the spinning wheel's hum,
the housewife who thumps at her churn, singing, "Come, butter, come!"
the creaking millstones over the dam, the bell
in the newly-raised steeple, the congregation, as well,
calling all creatures that on earth do dwell
to sing to the lord aloud with cheerful voice,
to build, to strive, to advance, and to rejoice -
now the forest is driven back, now the green fields stand,
fruitful and gracious, new echoes from the land.

And now, on the river shore, we hear the steel
of the ship-builder's hammer freeing the cradled keel
of the new-built clipper so down the ways she'll slide
and then move stately away with the outgoing tide
where her brand-new sails will rattle in the breeze
as off she dances, bound for the seven seas,
while the sailors sing of a ship sailing down the river,
a yankee ship, with "her masts and spars like silver."

The ship is at sea. On land we hear the roaring
of the new railroad engines, and the water pouring
through the thump and howl of the wooden mills, and the air
the girls sing at their looms - Jeannie's light brown hair
or Johnny coming marching home once again -
until another war breaks out; and then
the rattle of carriage wheels gives way to the beat
of pistons, the whir of tires - and the horses' feet
are heard no more now in any village street.

But cars and trucks and aeroplanes are here
to stay. Our lives move faster every year,
so that at times they seem empty, at times we fear
that something is missing, something has gone awry,
that, among so many machines, are souls run dry,
The wilderness withers; the wild flocks dwindle and go
as highway sprawl threatens the state we know.
Nothing has quite come out the way it was planned.
O own lives are echoes from this land;
and still we're pining for the echoes from the land,
of this troubled land, of this dear, beleaguered land.

Echoes from the land, loved echoes from the land!
We look up to our wooded hills, or down to the strand
of the ocean shore, and lose track of our own day
as we think of the future hurrying on its way,
and wonder what all those future people will say
when they think of us. Will they say that we made
a wise provision, that we weren't afraid
to think of all life, and of ourselves within it? -
to think of all time, not just our little minute? -
that we heard the earth's sad cry, and that we heeded
the best we could, that we did the things that were needed,
and did them with a depth of generous feeling
which led to the beginning of a healing
that is the joy and heritage of their days?
Will they remember us gladly, will they tell of the ways
that we turned with all the strength at our command,
each with a willing spirit and eager hand,
to those echoes from the land, from the green, life-giving land?

 

Neighborliness

In Maine we're used to it, it's still
the custom to look out for the neighbors, a habit
handed down from the start
of the earliest fishing villages, of the first
long strings of hundred-acre farms
stretched along ridges, each one usually
just called, "The Road."

On that road,
if a man fell sick, or a widow
was facing a hard winter, it was neighbors
who filled the woodshed, the neighbors
who shared meat when they butchered If a house
burned down, the whole neighborhood
turned out to help build another. When a storm
threatened anyone's cut hay, it was everyone
who hurried over to help get it safely
into the barn. And the helping
goes right on: this fall I heard
of someone who had to put a whole paycheck
on an old debt, and then found a hot dinner
waiting on the step when he got home from work
every night for a month -- but no one
ever admitted a thing.

In Maine
we have a way of looking out
for one another. When the great ice storm
struck us last year, the grocery stores
were full of extra heaters left there
for anyone to borrow, and the whole state
was busy with jeep cans of water and stacks of wood,
making sure we were all alright, that everyone
would pull through.

In Maine
we are glad to be part of a land
that remains so beautiful under its green skin
of woods and open fields, that is glitteringly
bordered by thousands of miles
of breaking waves, and that is lovely,
too, with an unbroken tradition
of concerns, with the kind, enduring grace
of its neighborliness.

 

Why do you ask?

I can't make

any story

about my life

tonight. The house

is like an overturned

wastebasket;

the radio

is predicting

more snow,

I ask my dog

to tell me

a story, and she

never hesitates.

"Once upon

a time," she says,

"a woman lived

with a simply

wonderful dog..." and

she stops talking.

"Is that all?"

I ask her.

"Yes," she says,

"Why do you ask?

Isn't it enough?"


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David Adams of Unity

Two poems

In a Parking Lot at Rockland Harbor

Navigare necesse est vivere non necesse - Pompey

The perfect sunlight is an accident.
You might see him any day at noon.
An old lobsterman, a new Ford.
He needs little of his eyes to follow
as you walk beside, and then behind.
His face like a brown, stained bag
from decades in the open air he leans to still,
his chin almost at rest upon the steering wheel,
his purpled ears precisely sealed against
some ailment by cotton, gauze and tape.

It is mid-day; it is summer,
and pleasure craft traverse the harbor.
A dozen guillemots bob like blossoms
underneath the ceaseless cackle of gulls.

What dances in that pure light gathered
in his lenses as his dark hands pull upon the wheel:
the diamond chop, the islands, a life
as singular as granite broken free?

His denim shirt is buttoned at the collar.
And though the wind blows hard offshore,
in his mind, perhaps, he feels its shift —
a sudden whip of spray, a subtle loss
of balance in the swells beyond Matinicus.

One finger slides to tap the dash,
and his mouth moves like a turtle’s,
chanting something to himself, to himself alone.

August, Walking on Frye Mountain

The sun above the logging road
these lovers walk upon
has breached the canopies of oak and fir
to yield the branch, the flash of wing
that was a nuthatch
and then another,
as the illusion of a leaf in wind.

They climb to seek a vista,
for they dream that what they see
portends the life they paint in wishes.
Yet the scrub and stunted trees
have settled long ago each path they try
and steer them to a stone wall long abandoned
to the nature it had meant to turn.

Therefore, a wind has risen in a whisper
all these boughs would recognize
and guides the failing light into her eyes
and to the embers in her curls.

She pulls his hand to her lips
and folds it like a bird.


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Sylvester Pollet of Ellsworth

Poem for St. Francis

At 10 below
thinking to help the birds survive
we increase the dole of seeds--
look out to see a fat jay
pinned by a hawk.

In this cold even death moves slowly
there is time for much crying
and flapping of wings
but the hawk holds
and things calm down again.

The woods are silent:
two movements only--
the hawk's beak to the jay's breast,
and the bits of fluff
blown over snow crust.

We have helped a hawk survive.


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Gus Bombard of Old Town

Seascape

This is the captured product
of no artist’s fevered hand,
of no ground pigment,
or brush-stroked hope.
Paint-hazed chips of ocean,
blunted by a fog-gift day,
rise and fall against an
imagined beyond;
impressionist fulfillment
is in the feathery pines
made abstract by a loving eye.
Is there a soul
whose anxious fear is not
washed away by pulsing tide
and beaded fog-damp hair,
And then brought back—
heightened—by
the keening human gulls?
Time-ground sand is wet,
and the massive rocks are waiting.


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Funded by a grant from the University of Maine, Distance Education Advisory Committee, 1999.  Last updated on 4/5/00. 

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