#SampleSunday Sestina

I’m celebrating Christmas today, so I set this up early. Whatever you celebrate this season, or even if you don’t celebrate anything at all, I wish you the best of your tradition and mine all rolled up together.

A sestina is a 39-line poem relying on six end-of-line words to effect a sort of rhyme pattern. I cheated a little.

Marian Allen

Thirty feet tall, eight-foot dripline–the shade
this cedar cast would make a hosta groan
for light.  And then, last winter, came a fall
of snow so plumply damp it weighed each branch
with diamond lead.  Below, our feet pressed
snow as gossamer and solid as a new-grown leaf.

Each needle of an evergreen–a cedar–is a leaf
pin-slender, massing an impenetrable shade.
The needles die and drop, turn orange-brown; pressed,
they crumble.  Wind-raked cedars sway and groan;
snow coats each brittle, close-packed branch–
clings there, given nowhere blank to fall.

An evergreen looks arrogant when fall
brightens, drains, and strips the broad-leaf
trees.  A cedar mocks the empty branch
of has-been maple.  An evergreen’s unyielding shade
chills the ground.  The final sigh, the groan
of the dying year, smells of cedar pressed

by frost, like quilts unfolded, wrinkles pressed
and cedar-scented, resurrected for the fall.
Just listen to the hinges of the old chest groan!
Lift out that picture album; turn back each leaf,
name the names you know, tell tales on every shade,
crawl back to history along your branch.

Now forward from the founding trunk, along the branch
that bore you, past the fragile flowers pressed
between the pages (roses and violets, both the same shade
of dust, both with the same faint tang).  Let the pages fall
behind them, layer the past upon petal, bud, and leaf;
come, at last, to yourself:  An infant.  A child.  Grown.

Last winter, we heard the cedar creak and groan
beneath its burden.  The trunk bent, parallel to branch.
Still the snow fell, accumulating leaf upon airy leaf–
icy mulch, trapped on the tree’s surfaces, it pressed
wood beyond endurance.  We watched the limbs fall
cracking, watched the trunk snap with just a shade

of pleasure, picturing leaf and bloom in summer, pressed
skyward, sunflowers grown where the gloom of branch
will now no longer fall; blossoms in the vacancy of shade.

WRITING PROMPT: Your main character opens a cedar chest in the attic of an old house. What’s inside? How does your character feel about it?



I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, but now live in the woods in southern Indiana. Though I only write fiction, I love to read non-fiction. The more I learn about this world, the more fantastic I see it is.

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One thought on “#SampleSunday Sestina

  1. Jane

    December 25, 2011 at 11:16am

    Wow! Thanks, I love it.

    Permalink  ⋅ Reply
    • Author

      Marian Allen

      December 25, 2011 at 6:51pm

      Thanks so much, Monti! Hope your holiday season is safe and joyous. 🙂

      Permalink  ⋅ Reply

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