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Image of Healey Dell Nature Reserve, 1989, by an unknown photojournalist

Image of Healey Dell Nature Reserve, 1989, by an unknown photojournalist

A Sestina

I took myself away in coach and four in fevered haste
too much of cold respectability, of late, I’d tasted
to a crumbling stone mansion on the Cornish moors
thereby the starched collar of an enemy to seize;
I call him Shadow Poet. For years, he’s stalked
& never answers when I ask, what do you want from me?

Hating most his lack of curiosity in what matters most to me
while pressing, ever present, and with bloodless haste
he doth oppose my nearly every word. Myself, I’ve stalked
him to his gloomy lair a thousand times, I’ve tasted
his o’er sweet and opiated wines in hopes to seize
the lurid secrets he withholds. He’s of the Moors,

I know, for swarthy is his cast and like the moors
I trek by twilight’s gloam, he faint and vague depresses me;
the more I try to shake him off, the more he’ll seize
all chances to compose love sonnets with rudely haste
in making sure I know they’re not for me. I’ve tasted
worse in chivalry but never been so crudely stalked.

And so upon the frigid heath at dusk, well-stalked
with nettles and dead briars I command the moors
to bring the Shadow Poet, to confront all that I’ve tasted.
He arrives, his moody retinue in tow, and stares at me
in willfulness, refusing to explain, he bides no haste.
The wind a lock of his dark hair does briskly seize…

and lifts it to reveal a mark like fleur de lis. I seize
within my heart a sudden pain; I’m shaking, stalked
by stories I have written, villains who in brutal haste
have killed their mothers, overthrown a nation, Moors
who, persecuted, hide in caves, unheard; it’s me
and them, my figments, who sweet violence have tasted.

Unsmiling, Shadow Poet speaks: At last, you’ve tasted
what you force upon me every night and day to seize
and what I have to say—what comes–can only come from me.
We speed each other’s vortices, d’you see? You’ve stalked
my poetry and I have robbed your time, upon these moors
it’s clear, we are each other’s dark, through stealth or haste.

This you haven’t tasted. He handed me a flask and stalked
me in broad circles. Let the fever seize you, for therein the Moors
will admit more of me, then you and I, we may compose in perfect haste.

© Elaine Stirling, 2012