stories from the surface

a strange story, ours. One to baffle a historian
rubbing at his forehead in puzzled concern
squinting the fragments that alone are visible
(a meeting, a smile, a crisis, a proposal)
of what flowed beneath our surface
of the feelings too vital for analysis’ neat jail

childstrong, unfamiliar with daily routine’s jail
you were too fleet of foot to be caught by a historian
holographic depths playing in your surface
head ever turning to follow some new concern
darting round life’s questions with your own proposal
and in your dancing you made the music visible

and I, once so bound to what was visible
saw you offer me the key to my jail
eyebrows tipping in an infinite proposal
(can you calculate that angle, historian?)
and suddenly there was an end to old concerns
as the world opened up its fractal surface

immersed in wonder, who would choose to surface
when through love new dimensions become visible
a universe more profound than others’ concern –
their whisperings the bars of the broken jail
mouthing the advice of the historian
that teaches us to fear an unusual proposal

and then suddenly you rejected my proposal
told me cruelly that I was merely surface,
as dry and empty as the pages of a historian,
words that blamed me for seeing only what was visible
words that kicked my heart into a writhing jail
words that saw selfishness in my sincerest concern

and now I see the wisdom of others’ concern
but cannot regret I accepted your proposal
for now as I walk once more through my jail
I stroke the pearls I brought back to the surface
sole souvenir of the magic only darkly visible
to the wisest and most thorough historian

(we are all historians, tied to the visible
entranced by the concerns of the surface
dreaming in our jails of strange proposals)

A tough challenge this week from read write poem. As if writing my first sestina wasn’t tough enough, the crucial six words that repeat at the end of every line were to be generated randomly. I ended up with – concern, proposal, jail, surface, visible, historian. (My original list had “toast” but I decided I really couldn’t make that work, so I gave myself a joker!).

It was tricky because most of these words (particularly jail and historian) have few alternative meanings, which makes it hard to keep using them in a different way each verse. I did allow myself plurals occasionally but tried to keep them to a minimum.

I rather like the result… it has some personal echoes but tells its own story.


6 responses to “stories from the surface

  1. I’d say you more than rose to the challenge! You picked a theme that works – a musing over relationships and moving on with life, with a philosophical tone.

    I’m going to write a sestina, but if I don’t like my random word, I’m going to pick a new one. You’re very brave. I guess that’s cheating, but oh well! I’m chicken, *smile*.

  2. Oh man, what a fascinating structure for a poem. I’d never heard of it.

    Your poem seemed so natural to me, in fact, so much so that I never really caught on to the repeating of the six words at the end of each line until I read your postscript. I thought something was familiar, and I noticed some of the repetitions (historian, in particular) but it was all very organic, not forced.

  3. I really like the word “childstrong.”

    And you were right to pass on “toast” — it would have been difficult to avoid letting that go frivolous.

    Nice work.

  4. Your first sestina is a very strong piece on relationships, self and the restraints(jail) one places on oneself. Beautiful work.

  5. A literate, philosophical tale.

  6. Hi Lirone, I don’t know how I missed this earlier – wonderfully written to the form, congratulations!

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