"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Friday, July 30, 2010

¡Hola! ¡Ole! ¡Sestina time!

Hola, everyone. Listen up. Big learning opportunity here....


Yeah, uh, hello? Anyone there? Hello?

Hey! I said "sestina," not "siesta." Wake up and pay attention. Quiz at the end of this.

Okay. That's better. Now, sestina. Don't feel bad. I'd never heard of sestinas either until two months ago when I took an online poetry class. A sestina is a type of poem with a rigid structure.

Here's the deal: six stanzas of six lines each, then a three-line stanza at the end that sums up the gist of the poem. Total of thirty-nine lines in all.

Ah, but there's more.

Each line ends with one of six words that are somehow related. That's the same six words in all six stanzas. But! The order changes in a particular way. I could diagram it out for you, but it wouldn't make any sense. Just read what I wrote below, note the six words that end each line in the first stanza, and then where they are repeated in the following five stanzas. You'll get the idea. This order cannot be changed.

Ah, ha, ha! There's even more: within the last three lines, the six words are used two to a line, again in a particular order. See my example.

The six words can change slightly--verbs can change tenses, nouns can be used as verbs, etc. Before you give up and say this is way too hard, sestinas used to be written in iambic pentameter--which is enough to drive you batty. Battier. Battiest.

Remember, you can't change the order of those six words. So, here's my sestina, and NO it wasn't easy. I beat myself bloody for a week or so, then decided to skip this poetry assignment for the class I was taking. Hours later, some words came into my head when I wasn't even close to thinking about sestinas.

All of which proves one of two things: I've learned how to trick my muse, or, my muse has learned how to trick me.

Stumbling through the Alzheimer’s Memorial Garden

Can’t you control him, angry eyes demand

As he stumbles through the flowers. I will

Try to corral him before he tramples more,

even though a scream lies fallow in my heart.

I’m too tired to care, whether about tomorrow

Or what they think. I’m just trying to cope.

I wasn’t made for this, this trying to cope.

My body’s strong but I fear these demands

Will diminish all my tomorrows,

Leaving nothing at the end, nor will

I ever again find love in my heart,

If it’s even in there any more.

He sleeps. A couple hours or more

Of peace and silence, no thoughts of coping,

A time for restoration that steels my heart

To face the ever-increasing demands—

feeding, bathing, and controlling that will

Get us through the day. Don’t think about tomorrow.

What if, for him, there were no tomorrows?

No more showers, no more shaves, no more

Dressing a resisting body whose will

Exhausts my sleep-starved ability to cope

And whose cognitive outrages demand

Something that no longer lives in my heart.

Where did the love go, I ask my heart.

Is there a chance I’ll find it on some tomorrow?

Is it lost in all the mind-numbing demands

As plaques and shattered synapses take more

Of who he was? And now I have to cope

With implementing his living will.

I open his papers and turn to the will.

I brace myself, ignore my leaden heart.

I sign—no more drugs to help his body cope,

But ease him into death on some fateful tomorrow.

He’s forgotten how to walk and talk. Soon more

Will be stolen by AD's insatiable demands.

I dread all the tomorrows as I struggle to cope.

I pray time will mend my wanting heart,

And more: free me from these endless demands.

©Gullible 2010

And that, people, is a sestina of sorts. My very first, so don't judge me too harshly. Actually, if you can get started on one and actually make it through to the end, they're really rather fun. No, you don't have to choose your six words to start--just begin writing and see what happens. Then you can cram--I mean, rewrite-- it into the proper form

Now, for the siesta.

By the way, while these thoughts and emotions were current and valid at a certain time in my life, they are no more. I have healed after all.

Huh? Oh, the quiz? Don't bother me right now. I'm napping.


  1. Good Job! I haven't tried the sestina yet. I'm working though a book I purchased on form and it started with the Villanelle, so I've been practicing that of late. Haiku is next and then the Sestina. Maybe I'll catch up with you one day.

  2. Judge? You've got to be kidding. Sestina is a lovely form. You used it brilliantly, wrapping your heart in swaddling clothes. Even when healed, it takes the heart of an artist to paint the pain.

  3. I couldn't even get myself to READ the writing instructions you described here for a sestina, let alone attempt to write one.

    I think you did a fine job with your sestina although the message is disturbing. Lon's mother had Alzheimer's disease. I don't know if I could do as well as you did under the same circumstances.

  4. I am in awe of how and what you wrote. This is so close to my heart and I ache for what you went through. With my mom we are not even close to this struggle yet, but I know it is coming. To see the person you loved and laughed with no longer able to respond is heart wrenching. This is not just a poem of a certain style, this is a true story and emotion at it peak. Many of us will not have to cope with the demands of of a disease of this magnitude. I pray all that do will do it with your grace. Even though it is a memory now, I still say God Bless you. Sorry for rambling, but this really touched me.

  5. Wow, I loved this poem. The style and the message. Just incredible.