Playing with the Sestina
The group sestina project has been intriguing, for the reasons I’ve written about, but the Sestina form itself in also intriguing. At first it was frustrating, because I couldn’t control the line. The chosen end words were restrictive and inhibiting. It contradicted the way I write, but I stubbornly kept taking swipes at it until something began to take form.
I found that the first stanza is the key. You can play with it as much as you want, shift lines and adjust end words — but once you have something that works, it needs to stay put. The first stanza then becomes a kind of map, that helps you navigate the rest of the poem – the focus comes from there, the end words are set from there, the shifting rotation begins from there — it’s like a mandala pattern, where the pattern builds on and on in layering color and form.
There’s much in this form that resembles life. The end words, the set stanzas in six lines, represent the things we can’t change — the fixed stuff, reality. But the way the end words shift and the way the poem grows and takes shape represents the range and the creativity that each of us have within those sometimes harsh realities (even not so harsh realities can feel restrictive sometimes). There is restriction, or form, and there is freedom.
The poem below isn’t necessarily beautiful like a mandala, but it represents some fixed realities in my life and the way in which I’m beginning to shift and stretch around and into them. I’m thankful for the Sestina form that provided me with a structure in which to explore them a little more.
Love me into speechlessness
Speech: sporting with words.
Language: thinking, symbolized and ordered.
Writing: etching, language on paper.
Communication: puzzling, for the speechless.
The year everything changed, our voices
broke. Autism exhausted our breath.
It left my children speechless, using their breath
to express their moments without words.
With laughter, punctuated outbursts, humming, they voice
pleasure, agitation, contentment. It’s still ordered
but careful attention is needed to decipher the speechless
aspects that aren’t easily transcribed to paper.
In a word, ‘context’ – ‘with words‘ – or – the paper
instead of the text written on it, which, like breath
is a container, a medium, meant to be mostly speechless
lending its genius submissively to the words.
Wordiness dominates communication,establishing ordered
connections between ordinary functional voices.
I have never heard ‘Mom’ called in the voice
of either of my children. At least, officially, on paper
I am Mother, but I long for a naming that quickly ordered
me – Mom! – simple. Instead, I cobble together: a breath,
a Hum, a context eked out, repeatedly, without words,
leaning hard on presence, touch (and luck); is this speechless?
Understanding between us is also tenuous, as ‘speechless
ears’ won’t talk to their brains and this weakens my voice
reaching for them; we are impeded coming and going. Words,
my words of love, of encouragement, of instruction are paper
thin. Faced with frequent obstacles we gather up our breath
and run communication steeplechases, striving, dis-ordered
Still, they will be adults, when life will again be re-ordered.
This stage leaves even parents of typical children speechless.
I’ve practiced that their whole lives, so I’ll save my breath
for something else; I’ve gratefully found my writing voice.
And though they’ve loved me into speechlessness, paper
is helping me love them better, when I’m etching words.
The Breath animates all voices and orders
all hearts. We puzzle it out. I write words on paper
while my children speak, but speechlessly.