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A sestina is an extremely difficult form to write, at least for me, as it entails using the same six different words for the end words of each line of 6 six-line stanzas. These six words also must appear in a prescribed pattern, such that, for instance, when a word appears at the end of the second line, in the next line it will appear in the first, whereas if it appeared at the end of the first line, it will go to the bottom. However, the last word at the end of the fourth line goes to second place while the word at the end of the fifth line goes to third...so none of it is predictable, except that this pattern is followed throughout the poem. At the end, the envoi or envoy has to employ two words per each line in a three line stanza. It sounds crazy, and I have no idea where it comes from or why it has this form, but it is certainly an exercise in discipline if nothing else, and I think all poets should write at least one just to show that they can. Dunno how successful I have been, but here is mine. By the way, the words I have chosen to use are: stone, one, snow, day, want and soap.
STONE SOUP SESTINA
(When the townswomen refused to feed the stranger he boiled a large stone in a pot in the town square, cajoling them to donate just “a bit of this, a bit of that’” until he had a fine hearty soup, enough to feed everyone.)
Outside, the sky is made of stone.
Children barrel down the hill one by one,
sleds careening wildly across the shining snow.
At home, their mothers bake bread all day
or wash dishes in the yellow kitchens, wanting
more from their lives than food and soap.
The steamy kitchens smell of soap.
In the square, the rebuffed stranger drops a stone
into a pot, hinting at what he wants
to improve his thin broth. One
mother parts with a carrot, another a bone. Day-
light fades as they all add to the melted snow.
The ruddy children come home, tracking snow
and grit across the floor, glossy with soap
and fresh wax. Tomorrow is Monday, a school day.
Hungry, the children fill up their stone-
ware bowls with the stranger’s soup and one
who is always starving returns, wanting
seconds. The stranger calls: Who else wants
more? But the children dream of snow,
how the heavy windswept drifts can drown one
whole town, white as the purest soap,
shrouding houses, pastures, barns, the stone
walls around them, falling silently through the day
while the stranger boils his stone. Today
is the day the mothers have wanted:
a hungry stranger, shut sky the color of stone,
cold riven air disposing the snow
soft and clean, pure as flakes of soap
feathered around their thick ankles. One
day their children will be grown, one
day the snow will not seem a miracle. Today
they will all watch it fall, children, mothers, soaping
the cold tile beneath their feet, wanting
nothing more than this: snow
shining on a hill, a stranger’s stone.
Soap scents the air, the generous hot stone
soup of melted snow all they’ve ever wanted
warming each one that sudden winter’s day.