Friday, June 21, 2013

Sestina for the Summer Solstice

Ah, the dawn of another summer solstice!  Here we are at one of the hinges of the year, the day when we have the most light.

If you're looking for suggestions for ways to celebrate this holiday, you might like this post I wrote last year.  You'll want to avoid an experience when I was younger.

The first year that I was out of college, a friend and I went out to have some chicken wings for dinner on the summer solstice.  We ordered the atomic wings.  I didn't want to admit they were too hot, and so I made myself eat them. 

My friend finally looked at me.  She said, "These are killing me.  They must be killing you."

True.  We left the rest.

But the damage was done.  I could trace their fiery path through my body through the whole night.

Fire:  summer heat, atomic wings, the smoldering setting sun.  Would all that imagery make a good poem?  Or would it just be gross?  I tend to recoil at poems that are too firmly rooted in our inner organs.

Happily I have other poems in my files.  Here's a sestina that I wrote in 1999 or so--hopefully the form will be preserved, but if not, here are the end words which you'll find in varying patterns at the end of each line in the stanza:  sanctuary, grace, peace, chord, burn, body. 

This poem appeared in my first chapbook, Whistling Past the Graveyard.

Solstice Sanctuary

Under Gothic arches, I sit in this sanctuary,
sing the hymns, hear the promise of God’s grace,
while trying not to let the outside noise distract me. That promise of peace,
so elusive in everyday life. I let the music soothe, the chord
progressions familiar to my fingers. The candles burn
as I accept the Host on my tongue: “This is my body.”

Alas, that Sunday calm does not hold. Children’s noise assaults my body.
I find no rest. I seek elusive sanctuary.
My body aches, my brain can’t sleep, I burn
to serve a greater purpose but can’t find the grace
of time and silence to sort out possibilities. Nothing strikes a chord
with me. All I want is a bit of peace.

I sort seeds and start a garden on a tiny piece
of land, a corner of my yard. I feel new muscles in my body
as I dig and hoe, stake the tomatoes, string a cord
for the beans to climb. My hour weeding grants me sanctuary,
a solitary silence. I catch a glimpse of grace
slipping into my day as I my skin burns.

My children are not amused. They burn
for my attention. They fight and expect me to make peace.
I want to snap their heads the way I do weeds, but my motherly grace
saves them. I set them to work, admire each body
as we reclaim the yard together. At last, family sanctuary.
To ward off grouchiness, we sing old songs, relishing each familiar chord.

Our gardening time will be short. My children already gnaw every cord
which connects them to me. Sometimes I burn
for them to leave so I can reclaim my house, restore sanctuary,
revel in the quiet, luxuriate in peace.
My children suck my bones brittle, consume every inch of my body.
Over this constant dining, they don’t even deign to say grace.

But for now, we have shared purpose, a sense of grace
and easy living, a constant harmony, no chord
of discontent. We sleep soundly, every body
in the household exhausted, all our energy consumed in a slow burn
each day. The light lasts late; a summer peace
descends with the solstice, and we find sanctuary.

God’s grace descends from strange quarters, granting sanctuary
in strange moments, a series of chords singing peace
to the body, our dissatisfactions dissolved in digging, a slow burn.

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