Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Sestina. 

Wow, this one threw me for a loop at first.  I sat with my list of six words, the pattern and just stared at the screen.  The Tankas flowed so easily.  Now I felt stuck.  The ground seemed so hard; a place where nothing would grow.  I couldn't even seem to dig deeply enough to plant the half-dozen words that the form forces you to repeat, for even the first stanza.  I began to wonder if I was really capable of this.  I somehow managed to scrape together the first six lines out of the barrenness. It took me another couple days to complete the first third of the poem.  It was clunky and poorly formed.  I left it for a while as I do when a difficult crossword puzzle stumps me and staring at it further does no good, yet when I return, answer just materialize in my head.  I asked my wife to read what I had done.  Her reply?  "This is not my favorite form"  It was dropping down my list pretty fast as well.  And yet, while I was away from it, ideas, phrases, lines began drifting into my mind during the day, calling me to play with them.  Completing the draft happened quicker than the first part and I had become obsessed.  It was there on the page, but it didn't feel right.  I re-worked it, changed out words. polished it here and there.  It felt like an intricate weaving that when I tightened a string in one area, the poem unraveled in another.  Perhaps this is the heart of the Sestina, a form never quite complete...awkwardly beautiful...always wanting the poet's attention.


Wind and Wave
(By John Christian Lewis; all rights reserved)

Sweet summer days are here
So sings the salt-soaked wind
Dolphins dive to shallow depths avoiding crashing waves
From out the rustling dune grass rises, gracefully a tern
To dance along the ocean shore, above the sixgill rays
Hear, hear!  To wind and wave, on which the tern and ray are borne

The perky sun, horizon breaks, a morning thus is born
Though wind and sand will never hear
Sol’s voice of lucent rays
That shimmers off the sea below and stirs the sleepy wind
Upon which raucous gull-flocks swoop and glide, then turn
To dive amidst the oyster thief escaping on the waves

No broken shell or grain of sand would ever think to waive
It’s right to be the stuff of dreams, by hand and bucket borne
Each fleck of whelk, each shard of quartz, each mote transformed in turn
To shell-strewn castle walls or moats to hold back water here
Fancy, futile fortress, unfit to stem the pounding surf, to shame the bully wind
Which act to grind grand turrets down and gallant ramparts raze

“A rising tide will all boats raise”
Just ask a salt who loves the waves
Though even sea dogs can’t grasp the pith of ever-morphing winds
A gale?  A breeze? Typhoon, perhaps?  What from the Pauahtuns will be born?
To sculpt the beach and churn the sea and howl for all to hear
As zephyrs huff and trade winds blow the precious time away, a fresh day waits its turn

From summer flows fall, the seasons turn
The sun’s now muted rays
Slow down the living creatures here
But not the rolling waves
Upon their backs cruel winter’s borne
Flogged hard by vengeful, arctic winds

Ancient sea god Njord, spews out his sleet-filled wind
From Skadi’s mouth blast frigid gales, all warmth to overturn
But life lies low below the snow, ‘til breath of spring is born
And once again shall Nature stretch and to her bosom raise
Her terns and gulls amidst her grass, all creatures ‘neath her waves
Long winter resigns itself to death and departs for now from here

When next you feel a touch of wind warmed by the mid-June rays,
Recall the tern and foam-specked waves
Be to the beach re-born, sweet summer days are here 

1 comment:

  1. "Awkwardly beautiful" is the best description yet of this form! You want to keep fiddling with it... and it never lets you go.