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“For we are not pans and barrows, nor even porters of the fire and torch-bearers, but children of the fire, made of it, and only the same divinity transmuted and at two or three removes, when we know least about it.”

–Ralph Waldo Emerson, from his essay, “The Poet”

Volte-face: This being a labyrinthine fragment of a convoluted map, while true to form, lies, by necessity, three removes from the title’s premise and cannot, therefore, guarantee reprieve or escape from situations that exist or may have existed prior to the reader approaching this work. Re-reading may or may not be of further assistance.

My task began, as many do, with meaning well;
some learn by sight, others by repetition of sound,
I, of latter bent, having been for so long blanketed
had not heard the Titan who stole fire has a twin,
dull-witted thunk, Epimetheus, who goes about
unsetting fires, never quite managing but bad enough

that a magus named Pythagoras saw fit enough
to ask for volunteers none too bright who might, well,
consent to go to hell, and since I’d had about
enough of people’s whines & mockery, the sound
of someplace deeper held appeal. Have you a twin?
Pyth asked, before I signed. Nope, just me! Blanketed

thus with solitude and ignorance of how wet-blanketed
our species had agreed to be, I brought enough
of twinéd rope and kit to wend my way along twin
spirals that descend to nether studios so well
entrained in resonance—this is hell?—that no sound
can be heard and no thing can be talked about.

You’d think in such a place—Xibalba, Hades—about
which we are warned from infancy, still blanketed,
there’d be no sights, no complementary sound
apart from souls on fire, crying out, “Enough!”
This home to deviants where not quite perfect d…well
were monochord in their deploring of the hindsight twin,

brother of Prometheus. What comes before twin
thinking, Foresight, matters most, yet you fuss about
the done and did, as if the world had darned well
better know how miffed you are! Now you’re blanketed
in afterthought, fires erupting everywhere, enough
to make you think there is, or that you’re in, Hell! Sound

familiar? They were looking straight at me, their sound
of perfect fifth, just major third, while a trepidatious twin
inside my head was twanging. I do not know enough
of theory musical, although I paused when talk about
harmonic ratios to Mayan myth conjoined. Fire blanketed
creates the Smoking Mirror, Pythagoras knows this well.

Their harmonies were sounding off, as if cacophony that lay about
Prometheus’s twin multi-hatched with them. Already over-blanketed
with enough—no, too much data, I could not see things faring well.


The volte-face, about face, disclaimer, recant that began this sestina I wrote last, so it looks, in Epimetheal hindsight, like two more episodes will follow—not necessarily in sestina format. I hope something happens; I’ve never tried refunding fire before. Nonetheless, while this narrative awaits further unfolding, there are many embedded clues for the adventurous traveler who may have embarked on his/her own explorations.

© Elaine Stirling, 2013
Image of Pythagorean comma from
Overtone Music Network