December 06, 2006


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 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.


(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.

Posted by pamwagg at December 6, 2006 06:21 PM


Dear Pam,

Sorry, I got lost in other things and didn't follow your blog these last couple of days. Your sestina is masterful. You truly amaze me. I can't keep up with you! I took a poetry writing class in college years ago and one of the assignments was to write a sestina. Of course, mine is long ago lost but I do remember that it was a challenge to even try to attempt. And here you are just whipping one up as if you've written them all your life! Bravo!

Posted by: Kate K. at December 8, 2006 10:43 AM

Dear Cynthia,
You are a warm and wonderful miracle youself. Pam never expects anyone to write something so obviously torturous as the challenges she gives to herself. I'm certainly not up to the task i.e. my comment. Thanks for joining me, ,my miracle blogborn friend!

Posted by: Paula Kirkpatrick at December 7, 2006 11:15 PM

Oh, my! Oh, my! I know already that writing a sestina is one of the host of challenges I shall never rise to! Pam and Paula, I just read this blog entry and Paula's comment, and had to add my own feeble mutterings. "Stone Soup Sestina" has grace, dignity, and very great resonance. It seems, somehow, to mirror the quality of winter light on snow. Here is a poem forced into a corset, so to speak, and yet not breathless, rigid, irritable or irritating. A small miracle, I'd say . . .


Posted by: Cynthia at December 7, 2006 09:41 PM

To my comrades in commenting,

WHERE IS EVERYBODY? AM I A ONE WOMAN SHOW ONCE MORE? I CAN'T IMAGINE ANYTHING MORE DISAPPOINTING FOR PAM. This is not a message designed to induce guilt. I'm just curious. No explanations necessary. With great fondness to all, Paula

Posted by: Paula Kirkpatrick at December 7, 2006 01:58 PM

Dearest Masochistic and Triumphant Phoebe Sparrow,

"Let this cup pass from me." Groveling at your feet, Humble Paula
(See how easy that was, my fellow cowed commenters? I know that the poetic requirements alone, effectively gave you writer's block. We won't even consider the fact that Pamm successfully wrote the poem.) Now you may comment(hoards of you, I hope).I'll give you a few hints. "Wow!" "You really DID that?" "WHY did you do that?" etc.
Now go for it! Let's try to break the bank on comments for this gem.
Standing O again!!!!

Posted by: Paula Kirkpatrick at December 6, 2006 09:39 PM

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