July 2014 Sestinas
Carolyn Moore’s four chapbooks won their respective competitions, as has her first book of poetry, What Euclid’s Third Axiom Neglects To Mention About Circles, published in 2013 as winner of the White Pine Press Poetry Prize. She crafts masks to accompany her persona poems (since “persona” means “mask” in Latin) for performances in collaboration with dancers, mimes, and other poets. Moore taught literature and creative writing at Humboldt State University (Arcata, California) until able to make a living as a freelance writer and researcher. She now works from the last vestige of the family farm in Tigard, Oregon.
1991: The Traveling Vietnam War Memorial
Comes to Redwood Park
for Kristopher M.
She’s dragged me to this park in search of peace,
that girl inside, the one with the power to wring
sparks from old ashes and coax them back to fire.
Before we all mistook warrior for war,
her faith stretched everywhere. Today, it brings her
here among kids shrieking from swings. These woods
of the tallest trees on earth—second-growth redwoods—
find at their roots The Wall, each paneled piece
a second-growth of names. And isn’t this her
purpose, this girl inside? She’s come to wring
a single name from this black roster of war.
That much I’ll grant her. For this I’ll call ceasefire.
Years at a stretch I forgot him, his quirky, surefire
smile—that lanky kid from Texas who would
kiss me once, then write me from the war.
He rode a chopper lifting out the pieces
of guys whose tidied trinkets—photos, rings,
dog tags—would beat them home. I left him to her.
And in her care, his letter grew savage. Her
care. Mine was ducking his new words opening fire:
words like gooks, slants—words battling the black ring
banding my arm on Quaker Fridays. How would
I tell him this? And so, for my own peace,
I quit writing and abandoned him to war.
She—that girl—makes a liar of me, who swore
no tears. She wears such badges. Not for her
these tissues set out for those struggling to piece
memory to name.
“BANG!” A boy opens fire
with his voice. His plastic rifle strafes the woods
where men in khaki march forth to form a ring,
an honor guard of vets. The child’s bang! wrings
my stubborn muscle throbbing its hate of war.
Bang! go my sit-ins, marches, and all I would
believe we learned. I stagger back . . . to her.
That girl who wrote to the kid under fire.
Not finding his name will have to pass for peace.
I find instead what I’ll never wring from her:
this war on war, its grave toys opening fire
in woods where the wounded reenlist for peace.
The Sestina of Hurry: In Indentured Servitude to Eliot and Marvell
In the land of grammar, all is tense:
future, past—while present’s back
lies broken on the rack of time.
No matter how we try to please
our torturer, King Time won’t hear
of freeing now from torments past.
Once fractured—when most pain has passed—
we live in fractions, both in tense
and leisured moments. We cease to hear
how even games are broken: halfback,
quarterback, halftime. Words as pleas?
bereft of hope for the whole of time?
And so we settle for holes in time.
Digital clocks discard each past
moment. We’re tricked—yet feeling pleased
in this mirage of an intense
now: moments hacked apart, their backs,
fronts, stripped as though we dwell in here.
But at my back I always hear
the “wingèd chariot [of Time]
hurrying near,” that hefty drawback
to shirking off the weighty past.
King Time: we ask to pitch our tents
on now’s slim margin, if you please.
But should you rule you do not please,
then grant us leave to hunker here,
exhausted from our lifelong, tense
wrestling match of parsing time
and pinning it to the mat of past.
It seems we win—until called back.
A fleeting respite in now’s outback
is all we ask. So hear our pleas
for mindful rest before the past
reclaims us, tugs us in its sphere
where grammar’s iron maiden times
her closure on our present tense.
But at my back I always hear
your call: HURRY UP PLEASE IT'S TIME,
as life ticks past in the wrong tense.