July 2014 Sestinas
Alexis Quinlan is a writer and teacher living in New York City. Previous poems have appeared in the Paris Review, Drunken Boat, and others. Last spring, Exit Strata: Print! published a chapbook of an ongoing project, a series of interventions on and responses to Sigmund Freud's essay, "Mourning and Melancholia."
Sestina: The True Gravity of the Garden
The night is too brief for lovers and enemies:
they all wait up, counting the ways.
Think hot boils on withered body
(baby, it’ll happen).
Or worse: metal swerves but doesn’t miss.
Admit it. Some things can't be fixed.
And what happens to the cast-offs, unfixed?
New weather clear for seasoned enemies
for her bright orbs of promise
tuned to cherry songs, her ripe fig ways
of making you happen.
How vague her gone eyes, the damp salt of her body.
Always, she said, we must praise the body, must
scorn attempts to rise above. Desire won’t be fixed
but is a silver-rimmed gypsy, hop on
her caravan! Not denial, not even lies are her enemy.
Yet you wait up, calculating always.
You say it's lyrics you miss.
Then accident sets in, or disease cannot miss
that target, teen dreams of the body.
Your abacus weeps, hopeless to fix
her, to count pomegranate seeds, weigh
the empty between. You cock a gun for enemies
long gone, work the math on how loss happens.
It's easy as leaving, and you know how that happens,
how happens twice, ten times, what’s a promise
among pals when sweet pea rots to enemy?
They found a cure for your body,
but left the old idée fixe.
As if it’s best to be sure of the ways,
how they'll come to betray: happen:
it can happen and it can't be fixed.
So you name no one you'll miss
not one ecstatic body
only a list named adequate, and you hum your enemies.
For when I was so angry I could find no suck.
Sestina with Teresa of Avila
Hello your steamy medieval streets,
Hello my steamy modern boyfriend whose hand
Guides me to a church.
Mute behind sunglasses and lapsed, both of us,
And up from Marbella with fabulous sunburns.
Or are we having a fight? Moods burn
Erratic in the walled heart of Spain: Avila
Will be an alembic for flammable us
Scowling along flux-y streets
Seeking my birthday saint’s church
In the town where she first got the call: hand
Like siblings slinking from the family burn.
The guidebooks call Teresa a Doctor of the Church
So we skip Turismo de Avila
And he whispers on a narrow, leaning street:
The saint’s fate has lots to do with us.
Because Teresa was no scholar, but one of us,
A mystic who braided salvation to sex. His hand
Is a loose glove for mine, the street
Turns sharply, we’re both burning
For a good idea but it's not in Avila.
One of us has left the States forever. And hey, her church!
Grand and all unlike the Lloyd Wright-ish church
Of childhood where mom took us
(Me and my real brother) when I first loved the lady of Avila.
I draped myself in towels, raised a virgin hand
To the bathroom mirror: I’d save millions from the burning,
I'd start with my own suburban street.
Here a little like Teresa, who hit the streets
With a brother at eight to found convents, churches.
Rescued by an uncle, hustled home to burn
A while longer, to wait for the call. Okay. Hello, finally, to us,
Me and my brother, my boyfriend, hand in hand
And just missing the truth about Teresa in Avila,
About what was burning through us.
Never trust a street that doesn't lead to a church
Or a man who isn't waiting for the call. His hand. Avila.
Image by Bara Jichova