I always felt like sestinas were poems only written as assignments; writing one is more like putting a puzzle together than writing a poem. But all good poetry has some puzzle-solving going on in it. Here’s one I did some time ago:
In times of year like this when the last of the leaves
mingle happily with the cold but calm October ghosts
in a little barn dance under the typical harvest moon
swing, promenade, alleman, the caller an old crow
named Horace who left his home and family in the trees
for the gig: that is when your hair is the color of the sky
I don’t mean the days when there is a crisp blue sky
or anything, or the days when it’s as dark as the leaves
and fog makes every street look like the perfect home for a ghost
– so dark that most of the time, you can’t even see the moon
at night, the sky is just as black as so many crows –
but the days when the sky is the color of the bark on the trees.
Yes. At just the right time of day, the sky was dark brown, the trees
dressing up like skeletons for Halloween and reaching for the sky
as they gave up what was left of their deep red and brown leaves
letting them fly from the twigs, sending them off to the moon
or else letting them fly through the streets to dance with a ghost
and replacing them on their branches with a new crop of crows
I could have painted you into the scene, surrounded by crows
your hair contrasting against the nearly white skeleton trees
that rose up with your flowing hair into the dark, brown sky
well, in the picture it would be flowing, blowing around like leaves
above up above your head, making you look like a ghost
in an old movie, appearing on nights when the harvest moon
is shining like a flickering penny. I’d paint your face into the moon
so there would be two of it, surrounded by thirty-nine crows
one sitting on every branch, ready to fly out of the naked tree
all at once when you turned and shouted, they’d leave for the sky
while your blue dress, that was slowly being covered with leaves
clung to your legs as though it were a sad and lonesome ghost.
When I finished the painting it would be called “Portrait of You as a Ghost
with One Face in Front of the Tree, and One Face in the Moon
and the Branches Filled with a Murder of Thirty-nine Crows.”
Tomorrow, I want you to stand outside, out in front of the trees
and I’ll bring my canvas, and if by some chance the sky
isn’t brown tomorrow night, I’ll just start by painting the leaves.
But I can’t paint leaves dancing with cold autumn ghosts
I can’t paint at all. Not even the moon. Or a simple crow.
Just stand in front of the tree, let me see you beneath the dark brown sky.