We are gathered under a low sky, where a ring of stone
sits in a circle of barren earth sown with scattered gravel. Our car stands empty now except for the trunk full of wine.
Someone breaks bread; someone says grace.

Beyond the circle, a path descends to the river. She follows it down, walks with grace
where my feet would slip. I would turn an ankle or a phrase on that stone
in her way. My words are unsteady around her; I blame the wine.

The bread is gone, the wine
is drunk; or we are. And long ago our grace
deserted us. We are lost in this maze of bare earth and false stone.

We followed winter into its heart of stone. Between sips of wine we swallowed grace.

This is the end product of a gauntlet I threw down yesterday in a discussion with some of the editors over at yeah write. It’s a tritina, the little sister of the sestinas I’ve been writing lately. My words were stone, wine, grace, inspired by this week’s yeah write prompt “what is written in the stone.” I’d already written a piece for the fiction challenge, but I’ve been informed I’m not exempt from poetry on that account….

hic svnt elephantis

On maps the continent of Memory is terra incognita, colored uniformly with jungle. Explorers beware: its uncharted savannahs reveal yawning crevasses, the upthrust curve of bleached bone, cracked ribs and shattered tusks reaching skyward. Mourn here with the other shadows, and leave.


Monday swore to hide my secrets in the cave behind her painted lips.
She lured them with promises and kept them in cages of bone beneath her reddened cheek.
The prison walls were fantasies of painted paper, imitation steel.
Her silence delayed discovery; elicited denials became my eventual delight.
Now I inscribe her indiscretions on your skin.
Each mark a memorandum of her lapse.

Control is Tuesday’s watchword. She accepts neither weakness nor lapse.
I am deafened by promises, searching for the shape of my name on her lips.
I have memorized the bones of her wrist, her ankle, those limitless flashes of forbidden skin.
I am caught in the hollow of your throat, my love, the curve of your cheek.
Your laughter is the sound of my delight
But your joy is cold as steel.

Chains of words bind my Wednesday more surely than I could master her with steel.
I praise every merit, castigate each lapse.
Drafting the terms of penalties becomes my constant delight.
Forbidden phrases bleed from her lips.
Your chatter is not the equal of her cheek;
Her memory is not the bruise on your skin.

Thursday watches me through half closed eyes, the way I watch my hands moving over the landscape of your skin.
The sight of this goes through her like the needle before the steel.
I pretend not to notice; I turn the other cheek.
We speak of neither your discipline nor your lapse.
In the hours between now and then she pretends her lover tastes her with my lips.
In her dreams my hands chart the territory of her ecstasies and claim the peaks of her delight.

Friday’s discipline is my delight.
I have stripped her and exposed the scars beneath her skin.
I keep my counsel behind the shuttered windows of her eyes and the locked door of her lips.
She eschews swords for words; her voice tempers sentences like steel.
She plots a course around my error and corrects my judgment in its lapse.
For each of these things I tolerate her temerity and cheek.

I reflect on Saturday, eye to eye and cheek to matching cheek.
Where I find only blank oblivion, she sketches the outlines of intangible delight.
We wait the passage of hours together, each ticking second an unforgivable lapse.
Bookended by weeks we live within the covers of our shared skin.
How lonely other days seem in their cases of steel-
Unable to taste the poetry of silent lips.

No tear stains my cheek, no cry parts my lips.
I describe my delight in the permanence of stone and steel.
This momentary lapse burns like your fleeting touch upon my skin.

This sestina was brought to you by Christine, and by the words lips, cheek, steel, delight, skin, and lapse. And by the Oxford Comma.


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