Guest poem sent in by Mark Penney
(Poem #1799) Sestina
September rain falls on the house. In the failing light, the old grandmother sits in the kitchen with the child beside the Little Marvel Stove, reading the jokes from the almanac, laughing and talking to hide her tears. She thinks that her equinoctial tears and the rain that beats on the roof of the house were both foretold by the almanac, but only known to the grandmother. The iron kettle sings on the stove. She cuts some bread and says to the child, Its time for tea now; but the child is watching the teakettles small hard tears dance like mad on the hot black stove, the way the rain must dance on the house. Tidying up, the old grandmother hangs up the clever almanac on its string. Birdlike, the almanac hovers half open above the child, hovers above the old grandmother and her teacup full of dark brown tears. She shivers and says she thinks the house feels chilly, and puts more wood in the stove. It was to be, says the Marvel Stove. I know what I know, says the almanac. With crayons the child draws a rigid house and a winding pathway. Then the child puts in a man with buttons like tears and shows it proudly to the grandmother. But secretly, while the grandmother busies herself about the stove, the little moons fall down like tears from between the pages of the almanac into the flower bed the child has carefully placed in the front of the house. Time to plant tears, says the almanac. The grandmother sings to the marvelous stove and the child draws another inscrutable house.
I was amazed to discover that Minstrels had never run this poem. Like it says, its a sestina; Minstrels has run a couple before, notably the awesome Shrinking Lonesome Sestina by Miller Williams [Poem #904]. Theres an explanation of the form there; if thats not enough for you, you could also try googling "sestina", which will send you to all kinds of sites thatll have you writing them in no time. I love this one because it uses the form so gloriously. Look at the six key words: house, grandmother, child, stove, almanac, tears. Five homey, mundane, comforting, cozy words, and "tears". That choice right there tells you that theres something going on beneath the surface, that not all is right with the world of grandmother and child and crayons and tea. After the second stanza, the tears arent even literal, but were still seeing other things (the rain, the tea, the moon figures in the almanac, seeds) likened to tears. Theres an all-pervasive sadness there, even though the surface imagery of the poem is so very cheery and homey. And the relationship between grandmother and child is captured so beautifully, too. Classic Elizabeth Bishop; you wouldnt mistake it for anyone else. --Mark