The Elements

for J.A.Q (1984-1999) and A.E.P. (1895-1990)

Wading in mock swagger, a blast of fire
rose from your lungs. Rage so surprised faint breath
it caught in the throat, burned retreat to ash
gray pallor on your lips, left you a ghost
kicking round the attic; washed in the net
of my memory, as is all that leaves

me struggling to comprehend and leaves
a disconnect: like a gun does not fire
but a man falls dead just the same. A net
loss tallied. Here the body, but no breath
on the mirror which never sees your ghost,
no matter how you prance: wind in tall ash

tree limbs. But breeze is not seen, only ash
carried by the self-same breeze, or the leaves
from the bough—the story of the wind ghost
written by its burden: red, yellow. Fire
falling from a sky too full of its breath
to note the loss of something without net

weight. Still, the sky hangs webbed with clotting net
of voices rising, unseen, from an ash
can painter’s wildest dream one night a breath
away from death. He woke to table leaves
laden with food as a steam engine fire
cooled in the field and braves chanted their ghost

dance rites to save the same; then drowsed to ghost
words dancing through ether without a net
from building to building where once stood Fire-
That-Knocks-Man-Down who remembered the ash
and ochre on warriors who smoked the leaves
of peace, if that peace was only a breath

before the peace was broken in a breath-
taking lie no longer shocking—the ghost
of many a lie before, written on leaves
the white man turned. Snare the bird in a net,
Once again turned round and brought down to ash
thrown upon the head, wailing, waiting for fire.

Fire the clay, toss the salt and rouse hot breath.
Ash gathered underneath: wood’s only ghost.
Net cast deep for fish? Raise but rotting leaves.

===

This is a sestina I’m not as happy with, but will see what everyone else thinks.

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23 thoughts on “The Elements

  1. What I really like in this sestina Matt is how you show the beauty and ease of making this feel like a free verse piece. The poem itself is extremely dense. I have read it three times and haven’t taken in the whole scope of it. It’s quite a saga. The spirits lie packed as autumn leaves (and in fact the whole piece had an autumnal atmosphere.) I understand that the season, the leaves and trees almost have an ability to conjure native tribes back from the dead, or individuals who may have become spirits too young, or were lost too unexpectedly through war or accidents.

    I don’t mind ambiguity in poetry and I find it here (and not so much on the one you wrote on the post). If you find a way to clarify a few things, it might make it more accessible if you desire that accessibility. It’s beautiful as it is.

  2. Matt! This is brilliant! What a wonderful write…this form was so very difficult for me, (might have something to do with writing at work!) and I found your article fantastic! I will attempt again, leave the rhyming at the door, and I will offer up something worthy ONE day! lol Thanks too for your “gentle” comments on my attempt…you must have been biting your tongue! 🙂

  3. I really enjoy seeing what you do in a longer form, Matt. This is excellent, very free within the form and full of amazing language and imagery–esp like this passage:” …Here the body, but no breath
    on the mirror which never sees your ghost,
    no matter how you prance: wind in tall ash

    tree limbs. But breeze is not seen, only ash
    carried by the self-same breeze, or the leaves
    from the bough—the story of the wind ghost
    written by its burden: red, yellow. Fire
    falling from a sky too full of its breath
    to note the loss of something without net

    weight..”

    The enjambment really helps keep things fresh and the keywords revolving and meaningful without being overbearing. Thanks for hosting today, and for sharing your two sestinas, both fine poems.

  4. well you obviously have been playing with this a bits matt…smiles…really you sent my head spinning with your word play…marvelous imagery and a fine bit of story telling…thank you for the great piece at dverse today as well….much appreciated…

  5. I see clearly between this fine work and your shockingly good piece at the Pub why you are hosting! I have only one sestina to my name so I will simply enjoy your marvelous words. Thank you again for the excellent article and your generosity in hosting.

  6. The words you chose are “delicious” and you used them to create such good images and atmosphere. This one is a bit more obscure. Sometimes with forms such as the sestina I get hung up on meter and the like but here the enjambment pulled me through. A satisfying read…if you think it needs tweaking, I have no doubt you’ll figure it out, Matt.

  7. Beautiful… I especially like:

    Still, the sky hangs webbed with clotting net
    of voices rising, unseen, from an ash
    can painter’s wildest dream one night a breath
    away from death.

  8. I should think that one would need a lot of patience for this form. Enjoyed this piece!

    ~ before the peace was broken in a breath-
    taking lie no longer shocking—the ghost
    of many a lie before, written on leaves ~

  9. I am truly awed by your skill with this form…. this really is a first introduction for me so I am feeling a bit overwhelmed with it.

    You have given us two very fine, yet very different examples… I shall disect a bit to really drill the form and understand its patterns, then come back and attempt one of my own down the road a little.

    Thank you for sharing such wonderful pieces with us and for hosting today. I look forward to exploring further.

  10. Lewis Turco talks about how the form had a modernist revival in the 20th century especially in the USA. So a free verse, image driven version is well in the mainstream of the form. And each line is dense with imagery. The form also works best with obsession and this has an obsessive rage filled feel. The key challenge of the form is usually to shift focus of the end words by ‘tricks’ such as enjambment, shifting phrases with an end word at different points in the phrase or using the word’s different meanings. Much of what I saw here.

  11. This is a brilliant Sestina sir! The ease of flow and imagery makes it obvious that you have been doing this for many times. Now i will save this to read again and again. I’ve been hearing Sestina before but never got actually any chance of doing one until i stumbled it over at dverse. I got interested immediately not knowing if i could ever done it right, and now my effort’s up. It would be an honor to hear some assessment from you with regards my attempt with the Sestina as I think you as a pro in this kind of poetry. Thank you for introducing us with the Sestina.(:

    Good day!

    ~Kelvin

  12. Well I sit in joy with this, as commented by others this really almost felt free form yet its a really fine sestina. It is stunning imagery you have weaved together. Thank you for hosting this form, this is the first I have written because I was always intimidated by it, I can see I still have much to learn about its possibilities. ~ Rose

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