................................. Nonfiction

Sacred and Profane: the Sestina as Rite

A high school English teacher had assigned Dylan Thomas’ villanelle ?Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.? The poem drew me by its probing of loss. I’d lost the hearing in my left ear when I was ten, and when we moved from the Midwest to the west coast, I learned the devastation of being taken suddenly from my birth place. Thomas’ villanelle resonated. It rocked like a canoe on the buoyance of diction and syntax, its two repeating lines the canoe’s curved sides. ?Poetry is a form, reaching out,? Edward Hirsch writes, ?a disembodied hand--a voice--coming from darkness into light....?1 Thomas’ poem beckoned, inviting me in. It was the impulse to writing my first villanelle


Water Rites

In a circle of elms near the stone farmhouse, my grandfather had cemented a shallow pool. I entered this cylinder of shade, lay on my belly. Fish slid in lazy loops. Domed light arched over this sphere. Only the fish moved, in that other world, the one under water.

I was four I had heard my grandparents talking about how badly we needed rain. Their faces registered concern. I would have to do something to help, but what? I picked up a twig, dropped it in. The twig floated at the center of concentric ripples. Then, on the opposite rim, something thick and dark slid down to the water and in.


“The single most empowering skill anyone can own
is their own articulateness.
When you can say precisely what you think and feel,
you’ve developed
your power as a human being to the highest potential. Thought is by nature elusive, fragmentary, fuzzy, and inherently contradictory.
If we – all Americans – don’t command our language we won’t think clearly, and without that clear thinking we also won’t recognize our deepest feelings, and we’ll be exploited by slanted media reporting and by unscrupulous or deluded politicians. Democracy exists only so long as millions of articulate citizens defend it.”

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