Partimens are such sweet sorrow: the dialogues


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The prologue to this piece can be found here.

Round One

From firm amen to firmament, so be it, she
began the discourse known as partimen,
but do not think I shall be ladylike and see
with batty and forgiving eyes the truths you bend
to fabricate and lubricate dumbstruck women.
I was one, I know. The ground is pocked with hidey
holes of those who wish that life could be more tidy,
while secretly they hope you will happen again.

Touché! I thought you’d give me too much credit. Not
enough is better—keeps me hungry, slightly mad
and vengeful. Hidey holes are fine, but not a lot
of fun once scars have healed. For you to think me bad
is easier than to maintain a Galahad.
I like my women small, pretending helplessness,
but only so that I can put off happiness
and float, a former prince, upon this lilypad.

You make me want to croak, said she. What happened to
the fearless knave, enchanting minds and broken hearts?
If not for you, I never would have wandered through
these catacombs to echoes of assembled starts
that went nowhere but could. I would have missed the arts
of time, of rhyme and pulse, the sciences of grace.
Tributes to you are heaped and crammed in every space,
while thieves are making off with who you were in carts.

Round Two

The poet from a slowly moving eddy watched
the poetess and waited for the impulse that
would stir to words that either remedied or botched.
I know I have done both to you, knocked hard and flat
the tenderness you offered. I’m a heartless brat,
but for all that, we are together still. What yearned
in you for me is gone; I see what I have burned.
Why is it hot in here? Who turned the thermostat?

The poetess who always had too much to say
felt planks of certainty break loose and start to drift.
Get back here, you! A partimen, once started, may
not lie unfinished. Someone had to drag and lift
what constancy remained; she could not lose this gift
or him! To no one in particular, she said,
I don’t recall what ejected you from my bed.
My rhythm’s off. I can’t iamb. What is this shift?

The poet wept, but not so that his former love
could see or know what kept them, while embodied, bound.
Fleshless, boneless, he had nothing now left to prove.
I’m here, he said, for what it’s worth. The hallowed ground
you sought I could not be, and what I thought I found
in you seemed easily replaceable. The chase
was all I knew. Outrunning you became the race.
They may find traces of us in some burial mound.

The Arbiter

She walks along the shore, a pocketful of spheres
and dreams that spin above her head in tubular
and spiral shapes. When beauty’s crushed, nothing adheres,
some plaintive voice is telling her in angular
profusions. What we two achieved was jugular
and cruel. Not so, she says. Your ballast holds me here
in this new place where sound precurses poetry
of dialogue from two to three, spectacular!


This partimen in the 8-line, 12-syllable style of “copla mayor” is dedicated to L.F., glosera.

© Elaine Stirling, 2014

Partimens are such sweet sorrow


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Two poets write across the fields of time.
Locked in fierce argument, they know that death
is but a narrowing, a birth, while rhyme,
so many view with merriment, is breath
divine, and metered phrase as solid as
the calfskin boots our roving poet left
beside her bed the night he fled, alas,
into a meteor’s swift path. Bereft,
the poetess whose form so lovingly
did influence our poet learned that he,
though cleft in two, annoyingly
refused to let his poet muse go free.
We’ll write, my love, throughout eternity,
let no sad partings bar my need of thee!

Eight months and twenty years the poetess
wrote on, no charming poet at her side—
or so the populace believed. Much less
could they conceive the famous two were tied
like Janus, facing back and front, one here,
one gone, entangled by resentments that
had fueled both to rise to stratospheres
of passion and comparison, till, splat!
The pull of him she’d ceased to love caused her
to push until her veins o’er pressured, snapped.
Yet, though bodiless, they’d passed no further
than your average warring pair. Patience sapped,
the poetess declared: a partimen
to part us with a binding, firm amen!

The poet, who desired to write again
with fingers and a pen, agreed. What form
shall we adopt to part and justly win
our freedoms back? Rules say we must conform
and speak three times before the arbiter
can judge, and I’m quite over-sonnetized.
Me too, she said. The witty French trouvères
took only eight lines to romanticize;
you decide the rhyme, take all the time you
need, haha! He threw his gauntlet down.
Copla mayor! The rarer scheme we’ll do,
a-b-a-b-b-c-c-b, you clown.
We’ll see who laughs the last and best,
and from each other win much needed rest.

To be continued…


© Elaine Stirling, 2014

Tolerance and Street Poetry


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bus window

The funny little man sat in the front seat of the bus and talked nonstop to the driver. Most of his teeth were missing and he spoke with an accent, maybe Italian. The man said things like, “Do you know why I know everything, even though I no schooled?” He pounded his forehead with the ball of his hand. “Because God put it all in here.” Then he cackled and gazed out the window, giving us passengers, if we were lucky, three precious seconds of silence.

In between hyperbole: “I’ve had the best life…life’s not easy…no one’s worked harder than me,” the man made outrageous racist comments in the form of life counsel. “Whenever you see XXX people, you can be sure dey have money in their pocket. You think they’re broke, dey always say they are, but they’re not.” Our driver happened to be of that race, but he never once took offense, never pushed back or corrected him. A few times, when the man stumbled over his words, couldn’t get his thoughts out, the driver calmly said, “It’s okay, I’m listening.” The driver said good morning to every new passenger.

The night before, we’d had torrential rains, and the two of them talked about it. “What time did you get home last night?” the driver asked the man.

“Two a.m. I couldn’t get no taxi from the terminal, so I had to walk.”

“You walked in that rain? All the way home?”

The man laughed. “Yeah. It rained like crazy, but I walk like summer.” He gazed out the window and said it again, more slowly.

It rained like crazy.
I walk like summer.


© Elaine Stirling, 2014
The evocative image of a bus window comes from

The Last Patch: suburban myth for the fit of heart




See that last patch,
sooty-white and wedged
between the trees? It’ll
lead you to the Snow Troll’s
nasty lair, if you don’t have
the common sense to stay
on outta there.

That crick between,
what’s creek to city folk,
holds jellied pods of tad-
faerie, a million thousand
single eyes, assessing how
and when accumulated circles
of intelligence of passersby
with collared dogs or not
might shatter.

All things nonexistent know
the human need to prove
smells like fish and tastes
like chicken. Build your argument,
go ‘head and slap those furthermores
on thick and high enough and just when
you’re about to—Boooom!!! sweet chips
of overestimation rain and tiny perfect
mouths catch every drop.

There is no waste, dear travel
mate, there’s only gain. That other
thing you rhyme with cross and boss
and albatross was dreamed up by
the Snow Troll, first cousin to
Ereshkigal and ilk, who whines
because he thinks his time
is nearly through.

This 12th of April day,
he grumbles still, defending
his last measly patch. Just let
him melt. Earth worms rejoice
and robins hold no truck
with what’s gone past


© Elaine Stirling, 2014

These Fruitful Years


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fruit basket

A Rondeau Redoublé

These fruitful years that lie ahead
are lapping at my feet in waves;
with sweet detail my dreams are led
to more than what the most-of-me now craves.

Perceiving only good around me saves
infinities of drear and dread
from creeping in, and paves
these fruitful years that lie ahead.

To you who say I could be dead
tomorrow, yes! So what? Grave’s
a lead-lined attitude. Levities, well-fed,
are lapping at my feet in waves.

I tell you, friend, that worry shaves
the zest from life, not time; the bread
you taste by day, the shadow saves
with sweet detail, my dreams are led.

Of tragedy we’ve all been bled
and told, tut-tut, she misbehaves!
I turn my cheek to Paradise instead,
to more than what the most-of-me now craves.

Farewell, ye dis-imaginers and slaves
to methodologies that cramp the head
and bruise the heart. Your enclaves
fall behind the proofs that rise and spread
these fruitful years.


© Elaine Stirling, 2014

Forbidden Fruit


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toffee apple

I lost my wits
in a treacle of sadness
tried to pull them out
reached in clear to the elbow
but my grasp caught hold
and froze crystal solid
like a toffee apple shining
caramel brown and pretty
made me want to take
a bite. But at the very moment
my teeth were sinking in, a foxy
crone with a basket of fruit came
along and stopped in her tracks, saw
what I was about to do, and said: Go
ahead. You chaw down on that sorrow
you been polishin’ like an old brass knob,
you be gnawing off your own arm. And that
wriggling in your belly, come from holding
onto pain you think is creative? Well, it
was once, for sure, but happiness
discarded turns to mealy bugs
of self-importance and they’s
dancing on your grave.

I found a box
(that once held shoes)
of unrequited loves on a
high-up shelf marked with
stuttering purple ink: Woe is m-me…
The shock of seeing all my loves
in one box where they probably
talked, knocked me off my ladder.
When I came to—well, call me
concussed, but where there’d
once been…umm, unrequitement
I saw a rainbow arc of love
fulfilled, full filling, spilling out
I knew, I knew, there’d never be a—

What, you don’t see it?
You don’t see everlasting
evergreen, happily ever
after, love with no end?

Hold on, I have something
here, it’ll make you feel better.
A nice shiny toffee apple.


© Elaine Stirling, 2014

For You


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Fire and Earth

I picked for you an olive branch
with stem that bows in honour of
the years of peace that you have sown
in hearts by leading us to poetry.

I picked for you a laurel wreath,
the caesar’s crown of victory
to mark your joyful destiny
between the paths of birth and death.

I picked for you a mustard seed;
so tiny was my faith but you,
dear gardener, grew it to a tree
that soars and shades, revives us all.

I picked for you a single rose
from Canaan’s olive grove, removed
the thorns to clear your path. We’ll meet
you near the mustard tree to celebrate.

Happy birthday, Gavriel!


Gavriel Navarro is a contemporary poet who has published three volumes of poetry. His first, The Wind and the Sea, is my personal favourite. I’ve featured the cover of his second book, Fire and Earth, because it’s beautiful and showcases Gavriel’s amazing photography and design talents. Fire and Earth also contains an excerpt from my soon to be published novel, Daughters of Babylon.

© Elaine Stirling, 2014

Ode to Richard No-Name


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A bawdy sonnet of the season with stage direction

[Exeunt fastidiae.*]
[Enter Great Dionisia.**]

All praise to Richard No-Name of the swelled
head! Let peons—that is, paeans rise in
excelsis, every beau, young graceful belle,
throw off your rectitudes for Dick, good rex,
has waked from winter’s sleep. His ewes and rams
they prance, proclaiming their fine pedigree,
while cowslips burst prim rosy in the hands
of maidens who would lose their heads to free
with crowning ecstasy the hornéd king,
sweet Richard, though his name’s of no account,
his double orbs and scepter are the thing—
aye, half the kingdom rides his noble mount!
Stay now, birthed spring, among us, be not shy
to animate new lovers where they lie.


* All prudes off the stage
** Enter 24 comedic, female performers

© Elaine Stirling, 2014
The beautiful primroses come from

A Capital Affair


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I paid a call today
upon a gentleman
of capital repute who
spends his days upon
an island in a mansion
noncorporeal and pores,
or so I’m told, over his assets.

I found him, though,
outside with no portfolio
in sight, on a wrap-around
verandah, in a linen suit and
boater’s hat, a ten of hearts
stuck in the band.

The purpose of my visit, Sir—

I know why
you have come,
he said, and bade
me sit upon a swing
of woven cane that rocked
with some ferocity whene’er
I took my feet from off
the floor—but worse,
in planting firm my soles,
the swing rebelled
and threw me off.
Three times I flew
across the porch, a
squawking crane, before
the gentleman whose laughter
shook the eaves and smelled
like cedar chips and tide
pools of Madeira said:

The swing is quite a
marvel, no? It will slow
when you let go. As I have
told 10,000 presidents and
plutocrats, the most important
things in life revolt against
both feet upon the ground.

A maid in lace
arrived with tea while I
swung back and forth so
hard my bones were
loosening the sea and sky
the mansion and the questions
I’d intended to put well to him
swirled in hurling tones of
puce and pome—bleeaaaagh!

Your tongue, I heard
the fellow say. Rest it in
the center of your mouth.
Let go your need to prattle
and opinionate. The world
will turn just fine without
your constant, cranking,
over-educated urgency.

I did as he suggested
and eventually, the motion
of my ever-present, non-
directed, aggravating
energy decelerated and…
I found myself in poplin
with my slippered feet
a-dangling, no evidence
of anything, apart from
strange attire, embarrassing.

The gentleman
picked up the tiny
silver tweezers from
the china bowl of
sugar cubes. One
lump…or thousands?

Your word, he carried on,
as Word will do, preceded
you. I understand you’ve hit
a juggernaut of flaccid minds
and rubber necks, and now
you know not where to turn
to think without upsetting
apple carts and moral
codes and labour laws
and anti-trusts and love
affairs and laissez-faires…

I knew from his biography
the gentleman was sharing
all he’d struggled with in nearly
fourscore years of life until
a clot no bigger than a lentil
reached his heart and showed
him with a flash of light so
blinding white he thought
he’d died (he had) but in that
great illumination too he knew—

And there he stopped.

He knew. He knew.
Knew what? The cost?
I finally ventured.

Yes. Of what,
do you suppose?

The swing that held
me with such stillness
creaked and started to
lurch forward, and my feet
so nearly touched the floor
I felt its grain and heard
its oaken warning: No!

I lifted limbs
with gratitude
and tucked them
underneath my skirt
and drank my sweetened
tea and thought of all
I had been trained
with humourless
rigidity to think

of me
of him
and systems
we call politic
and passionate
and treacherous
and lecherous

and just as quickly
as I thought, the issues
I’d assigned such gravity
they flowed away. For free.
No cost to me or him
or anyone. And in that
nearly total clarity,
a question: Do I
have to…?

Die to see the light?
he said and took a walking
stick with silver tip from
near his chair.

I don’t believe he
answered, not in words,
and neither spoke for hours
while we toured his private
island, though I see here
in my notes, I wrote:

Injurious self-government
is all I need to overthrow.


One of my creative processes in writing long fiction is to create character sketches in poetic form. This is one of them.

© Elaine Stirling, 2014

No Claim


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You will not see a flake of snow stand tall
upon a pedestal, proclaiming to
have grown the crocus, though it’s clear to all
when winter’s passed the marriage of the two.

Fire does not boast to ash the ravages
it laid across the land, nor medals pin
to lightning bolts for active services.
What’s burnt lies cold for new fires to begin.

The moribund of all is elsewhere born
with fingers, fins or manacles. No count
to keep, no need for sheepish glances torn;
desire will dispense her full amount.

The grapes we stomped have nearly turned to wine;
the stones we cast have laid a path sublime.


© Elaine Stirling, 2014
While I would have loved to photograph the crocuses from my garden, they’d have needed stems eight inches long to reach above the snow. The beautiful blooms featured here come from


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