Sestina, for yesterday, for M

September 30 2012 - NE

It rained all day yesterday, and the day before, and the day before.

It came down cold, and thick. It was nearly snow, but not quite.

If you’d wanted an excuse to curl up under the covers and feel pitiful, that would have been enough.

But instead, there was a birthday to celebrate. Another year in a beautiful life. A life I’ve been allowed to share because one day I went to work on a usual week day and met him and started to laugh in a new way and one thing led to another which led to a summer midnight in Maine when he asked the crazy question and I said “sure” and here we are, celebrating another birthday (and many more!).

We shared the kitchen.
I made soup with smoked fish.
He made the world’s largest sandwich.
We sipped smoky Laphroig.
We lit the first fire of the season.
We went shopping for things we didn’t need, but wanted.
We read books.
We made an apple pie and missed our poor, old Golden Russet tree.
We talked about cider, smoke, cheese, goats.
We listened to music.

He reminded me of this sad-beautiful poem.

(I love that he loves poems. And old books. And stars. And paintings. And oak barrels. And bowls of soup. And wooden spoons. And wooly sweaters. And Cape Cod when it’s cold and the beach is empty. And silly songs. And games of Sorry.)

And the rain came down all that beautiful birthday day.


September rain falls on the house.
In the failing light, the old grandmother
sits in the kitchen with the child
beside the Little Marvel Stove,
reading the jokes from the almanac,
laughing and talking to hide her tears.

She thinks that her equinoctial tears
and the rain that beats on the roof of the house
were both foretold by the almanac,
but only known to a grandmother.
The iron kettle sings on the stove.
She cuts some bread and says to the child,

It’s time for tea now; but the child
is watching the teakettle’s small hard tears
dance like mad on the hot black stove,
the way the rain must dance on the house.
Tidying up, the old grandmother
hangs up the clever almanac

on its string. Birdlike, the almanac
hovers half open above the child,
hovers above the old grandmother
and her teacup full of dark brown tears.
She shivers and says she thinks the house
feels chilly, and puts more wood in the stove.

It was to be, says the Marvel Stove.
I know what I know, says the almanac.
With crayons the child draws a rigid house
and a winding pathway. Then the child
puts in a man with buttons like tears
and shows it proudly to the grandmother.

But secretly, while the grandmother
busies herself about the stove,
the little moons fall down like tears
from between the pages of the almanac
into the flower bed the child
has carefully placed in the front of the house.

Time to plant tears, says the almanac.
The grandmother sings to the marvelous stove
and the child draws another inscrutable house.

–Elizabeth Bishop


  1. Margaret says:

    ‘Sigh’ how lovely. Enough to bring tears. And the poem’s not bad either!!

  2. Margaret says:

    That was more flippant than I meant it to be. It’s a lovely poem.

    1. Rebecca says:

      Thank you, Margaret. I knew exactly what you meant…

  3. Abby says:

    Happy, happy birthday to M! Sounds like a beautiful day. And I love Sestina…both the Bishop poem & the form. Reminds me of being assigned the form in college. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    1. Rebecca says:

      Thank you! 🙂

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