Tuesday, July 5, 2011

After-Effects of Fire - A Sestina (Poem)

After-Effects of Fire — A Sestina

I watched the fire leap the bees
swelled with honey, recalled rushing borders
to edge the swarm as smoke swallowed, like clouds
a trace of effaced moon, the dying buzz of black and yellow
jackets. My gaze retreated to nothing sweet,
the bloom of color in my eyes re-kohled and red.

Days after the day of quiet fell, I could see how red
might be held forever in the irises of bees
flushed with foaming spray; on fire, their sweet
honey now bitter as I, surveying the damage of borders
pinning in what need be freed, search for any yellow
signs of caution thrown up to soughing wind and clouds.

Memory in time might seize, though less evanescent than clouds
of dust resettling in line after fire line deepening the red
running among seared grasses once thick and braided yellow.
What value have these lives of five hundred fewer bees
fallen in the spaces between our long and redrawn borders,
there where we traded words and honeyed tunnels sweet?

Remind me, I ask, of the honey we gathered gooey and sweet.
I keen my loss beneath a sky plumed black with storm clouds
and render full accounting. Neighbors, too, on crossing borders
this once this morning rise by six and, watching the sun spot red,
count dots of coal-tarred carcasses. All that is given up by the bees
leaves us in wonder, our faces sallow, our skin a sickly yellow.

The fields parched and wanting water bear not a single yellow
blade to bend to wind. Daylight carries no message of sweet
relief as I pick through combs brittled by fire, the voice of bees
admonishing, their bodies engorged and carried swiftly into clouds
distant as the horizon seeming no longer seen. The sky burns red
with the heat imprinting our soles upon our ill-defined borders.

We, who'd made designs on earth we'd cleared of too-tight borders,
smelled honey crisp in its mold even as flames streaked yellow,
too soon calling to mind our wagers of loss as we watched fire, red
like the berries we consumed, race against greens and tender sweet
onions pulled clean beneath a sky white-washed with clouds
and forever emptied of the songs of wind-driven bees.

Inside the slow-returning yellow grasses, I imagine how clouds
shadow combs of sweet honey, envelope my fear to see anew the red
raging fire leap the bees. In diminishing glare, I watch my borders.

© 2011 Maureen E. Doallas

Last week, L.L. Barkat issued a call to Write Your First Sestina: It's a Matter of Pride.

So I did. Or tried to.

My poem comprises the required 39 lines: six stanzas of six lines each (sestets) followed by an envoi or wrap-up stanza comprising three lines (triplet). Six end words in the poem — bees, borders, clouds, yellow, sweet, red — repeat in each stanza after the first, in the order 6 1 5 2 4 3. For the envoi, three of the end words are used within the body of the triplet and three are used as end words.

The end words repeat as follows:

Stanza 1: A B C D E F

Stanza 2: F A E B D C

Stanza 3: C F D A B E

Stanza 4: E C B F A D

Stanza 5: D E A C F B

Stanza 6: B D F E C A

Envoi: E C A 

You may read about the sestina, a French form, here and here.

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I offer this poem for the One Shot Wednesday event at One Stop Poetry, which each week invites poets to share, read, and comment on each other's work. Be sure to visit the site late Tuesday afternoon and every Wednesday for the many contributors' poems. 


Kelly Sauer said...

I can't make heads ore tails out of the form, but the poem, it is beautiful, Maureen!

Louise Gallagher said...

Your sestina is beautiful.

That structure is complex and sounds mighty difficult to create.

Well done!

L.L. Barkat said...

This is wonderful. Well, no one could ever tell it is your first. You fill the form with words amber-sweet :)

I love the final words especially, "I watch my borders."

Hannah Stephenson said...

Sestinas are so much fun to write--it feels a bit like french braiding. So many times, the form has a naturally melancholy/sad/meditative tone (I think it's all that repetition, and thinking around a topic).

hedgewitch said...

Lots of very vivid visuals in this one--the keywords are challenging as well, especially "borders" but you've made them do their jobs excellently. I've written three of these now, and they do get easier, but I think this form is one of the most amazing platforms for a message we have in a longer poem. They make the reader work a bit, but I think that's a good thing. I esp like your second stanza, and the line "...red/ might be held forever in the irises of bees..." Beautiful.

Jenne' R. Andrews said...

What can one say about this poem-- first, the form doesn't call attention to itself, as if the message were wrought to fit the sestina. Your imagery is stunning; the sound of each line falls on the ear like honey. I especially love the two stanzas before the tercet. When you write such a visual poem your gifts are on display. xxxj

Kathleen said...

Impressive! Recently gave my class the assignment of a sestina. You've provided a wonderful example to share with them.

Brian Miller said...

maureen this is astunning poem, vivid and intense...you put us right there with the bees and then expanded those borders a bit...loved it.

Anonymous said...

That's a damn fine sestina! I've only written one I feel was successful and am not sure I'm brave enough to do another.

Elizabeth Young said...

This poem is sheer brilliance. So many images, so many similar and close images are packed together around the theme of the bees and their honey along with the fire. Absolutely delightful! I do hope you publish this one, it contains everything a poet or reader could wish for and more.

Ruth said...

Sestinas are challenging, for both poet and reader. But I agree with Hedgewitch that the work is worth the effort. I enjoy forms like this, and the villanelle, which loop key words back and back. The bees are wonderful characters here, the small in this bigger canvas. Lovely work!

Jerry said...

I applaude first the form(I am tired just reading what it involves)
and then the content...bees,just an important piece of nature and how I like how it touches your human nature.

Anonymous said...

Woven tightly bringing the reader into the scene to use all our senses.

Anonymous said...

Your use of the repetition of borders was deftly handled, leading me into a spiral of meaning. Thank you.

Glynn said...

I didn't tell you how much I liked this poem, did I? And I don't think I said that I was blown away by your use of the form. And I think I forgot to mention that it's simply sonderful. Well, all of the above.

Anna said...

I love how you crafted this so that the words that are repeated don't stand out as being repetitive. This piece is lovely and vivid and a joy to read.

Connie said...

So many images! Love how the bees and clouds drift through their lines...as if they're relishing being part of this...