In continuing collaboration with my social media pals, I decided for today’s entry to undertake the grueling task of attempting my very first sestina. I asked my friend Kat (who suggested the form) to contribute some words for me to use, and I forced myself to use them in the order she listed them. (See her list of words below.)
The form is grueling partly because one gets weary of having to use the same words over and over, or more specifically, once feels the mounting pressure of not just repeating earlier uses or contexts. And after a while, it just starts to feel very restrictive, and you struggle not to sacrifice whatever meaning you are trying to build. But this also forces you to dive deep into your creativity and imagination and love of words, and in the whole, those are good things.
So below is my first sestina, perhaps my last. You can see that the form requires re-using words at various designated points in the different stanzas (see the pattern below if you’re interested), and then 3 lines at the end called an envoi that follows a new pattern AND has to include all the key words of the poem.
Shew! And to make it even more of a grind, I restricted myself to the traditional syllable pattern: 7 syllables for the first line of each stanza, and 10 syllables for every other line of that stanza.
And so here it is, my sestina foray. I am not sure what it “means,” to be honest. But let’s begin with the rules in short form, and then the poem:
— Syllables: 7 first line of stanzas; 10 other lines
— Pattern:
7. (envoi) ECA or ACE
— Words submitted by my friend Kat, in order:
And here is the sestina:
One: Half and half
Yet I am only and still
A tiny part of the universe, half-
Molecule, half nothing. And still my growth
As an organism common as salt
Is yet somehow ALL. Every single brush
With the real is just an undesigned sign.
Two: Signs and Yearnings
We were told in church that signs
Were God’s to dole, not ours to demand. Still
Our yearning for meaning is only brush-
Strokes, layer on layer, revealing half,
Concealing the whole. We long for the salt
Of knowing who we are. Yearning means growth.
Three: Growth and Decay
Beware the concept of growth.
If existence is decay, then why sign
Up for study groups? Why work? Why not salt
Our food until it glistens? We live; still
And quiet in the grand scheme, yes, but half
Of living is being dead as dry brush.
Four: Begging Wisdom
It’s not that I mean to brush
Aside what knowledge we can’t know; there’s growth
In grasping at the unknowable. Half
Of enlightenment is respecting signs
That we don’t (and can’t) know or be all. Still,
We beg wisdom like the living crave salt.
Five: Questioning and Longing
Craving for truth’s not like salt
Craving, and I’m sorry I said so. Brush
It off as my desire to think that still
And all, questioning and longing are growth
Signs, whereas in reality the signs
Of real change split reality in half.
Six: The Grift; the Grasp
What I would say on behalf
Of the seekers of real truth is to salt
The earth behind you. Don’t look for a sign
That you are right. This is the Fuller Brush
Bait/switch, the grift, the bald grasp at the growth
That awaits all those who are thirsty still.
Seven: What is the Sound of One Koan?
I remember my half-brush
With what I then thought of as salty growth.
The koans, signs, and lessons haunt me still.