sestina for my brothers
I dreamed again of our old farm last night.
In sleep the land is forever changing,
Chestnut mares constantly running, running,
their finely chiseled forms slick with cool sweat –
I see their muscles flexing, fluid skin,
I smell the strong musk of manure, sweet grain.
The sky opened up – a starburst of grain;
the silo shot like a rocket last night,
oats showered dried earth and the smooth skin
of the mares, their shapes and colors changing
as I, too, begin to move, my own sweat
dripping, my bare feet slapping dirt, running.
The orchard shook, fruit fell from our running
thick pungent sumac patches bent like grain
while my feet cracked and my eyes stung with sweat,
the pounding of hard hooves rattled the night,
in moving through acres I was changing,
my own muscles flexing beneath my skin.
The mares’ thick switching tails flick at my skin,
I don’t know why I continue this running.
Am I also frightened by the changing
sky and the explosions of glistening grain
shooting forth, bright tiny jets in the night?
Bending graceful necks to drink, the mares, sweat
pours from their bodies becoming streams of sweat,
cascading from smooth coats and slickened skin
draining into the dried earth and dark night.
The mares begin once again their running,
bodies like wet chestnuts, manes like light grain.
I move along the fields, body changing
all the while running to avoid changing;
the slipping away of the farm like sweat
from our bodies, the sting of the grain
as it pelts, welts and sticks to our wet skin.
Then I realize it’s the earth that’s running –
a huge treadmill spinning the farm into night.
We grew up with foals, whose coats changed like our mixed skin –
our futures sliding apart, spreading like the sweet sweat
of the horses that run
only through the high grain fields of my dreams at night.
Note on the form:
The sestina is divided into 6 sestets (six line stanzas) and 1 triplet called an envoi which is just a concluding stanza that is half the size of the rest. It is usually unrhymed and works by repeating the end words of each line. The envoi contains, in any order, all of the six end-words. The catch is that one has to be buried in each line and another must be at the end of the line. The pattern for repeating the words is like this: (stanza A) 123456, (stanza B) 615243. This 615243 pattern is how each of the next stanzas are made.
Winner of The Julia Fonville Smithson Prize, this is my first Sestina.