In this beautiful week leading to Midsummer’s Eve, I thought I would share my first double sestina that I completed on the Summer Solstice of 2011. I was already hooked on the sestina form as a means of twirling the brain and dancing with a theme, and I’d read warnings on poetry sites not to attempt the daunting double version. I am here to tell you, they are FUN! “Manifestina” also came about by a dare from a poet friend, D. Russel Micnheimer, who suggested we each contribute six of the twelve end words, write our own double sestinas, and see what comes out. “Manifestina” took two weeks to write, and it was pure joy.
A Note on the Image: The rag rugs and pelts are in the attic of a family homestead in northern Finland. Some of the rugs probably go back 100 years, and that’s a real working spinning wheel. I’m delighted to share the attic’s treasures with you here, dear reader.
Manifestina: A Double Sestina in Four Parts
Until my inheritance arrived in a pine crate marked Fragile, I knew nothing of runes.
My godmother is dead. Her portrait hangs over there near the coleus. Her calling,
people thought, was wife of a pastor, obedient, still; velvet-lined offering
plates providing their sustenance on this vast rocky continent many moons
ago. Evenings, she spun near the grandly displayed leather-bound Bible, a cunning
parlour arrangement of handwoven rag rugs, upright chairs, designed for brevity,
for Pastori, away from the pulpit, was a man of few reaches, his nourishment
dependent on her lingonberry kropsut and silence, desponding for his fjords.
They met, so I’m told, at a picnic one Sunday near the Tapiola waterfall:
fiery young girl who loved to dance, Lutheran seminarian who didn’t, sounding
nonetheless to her eyes and ears like a hero of Kaleva, his Nordic levity
outshining the broody pall of her brothers. He was also very good at listening.
Now disassembled in front of the TV lies her spinning wheel. I’m listening
sort of to my lover on his smart phone bemoaning the inscrutable Dow Jones runes
that ruined his retirement and counting the months I have endured his waterfall
when, suddenly, the twelve-spoked wheel jerks in the box, an anti-physics levity
that makes me drop the phone and when I pick it up I hear her voice, “He moons
while you’re of solar ilk. Outshine!”—the hell? She speaks then of nourishment,
daily bread, though I’m too freaked to catch it. Yes, I have heard of ghosts calling
but the line is now dead, and then up comes a commercial for a seven-day Fjords
Cruise on a Norwegian liner with a land option add-on and a midsummer offering
of mystery and magic, which I’ve just experienced, though it’s already sounding
trite: a mini-tremor, trick of the eye. Still, I have unused holidays so with the brevity
of Internet, I book a solo cruise and hang the wheel to cover a stain: cunning.
Though I lie in pieces—sticks, a bag of bolts—my design remains cunning
though my spin has fallen still, hanging by a hook, I am still listening
to the whirr of incantations, rhythmic hand and foot songs, spinners’ brevity
drowned in complexities of this solar-maddened world, cooling moons
cast aside, their tide pulls forgotten, beams outshone, lunar nourishment
centrifugally emptied by empty spinning minds. I am of ash, mapped in runes;
simple etchings blessed have led me to this new restless owner, calling
out with the oscillating voice of the firmament, great world tree, offering
succor and sanction, sanctuary, sanity, for the sole purpose of sounding
humanity’s depths to the very toes of Helvetti, through rainbow and waterfall
rising from taproot to trunk to outspreading branches, leaving with levity
light’s upward push, right angled to the somber jagged thrust of fjords.
Over-deepened, semi-enclosed marine basins, the composition of fjords,
drones our doctoral tour guide, weathery and blue-eyed, of cunning
Viking stock, employed to enhance the ecotourists’ nourishment;
sedimentary sequences, glacial, deglacial, I resist the brevity
he assigns to beauty and aeonic movement, carved by moons
much wiser than the icon we conquered in sixty-nine. No longer listening,
I laugh midst the salt spray at a great skua’s cackle, magnificent sounding
of bird and sea when the land catches me behind the knees, calling,
an abysmal howl—human, inhuman, I cannot tell who is offering
this wilder maiden-bearing spin. Is such, I wonder, the nature of levity?
Upright my two maidens who support the construct of flyer and bobbin, runes
carved upon their limbs with a conjurer’s blade, they sing of waterfall
a thrumming nether built of wood gods, sprites and chortling waterfall
deities who in tandem reckless force rouse forests, fens and fjords
of the inner realm, incanting eight-fold trochaics of phonic brevity
that clack and whir through the flaxen arts, hear me sounding
feel me bounding, treadle-footed, wheel resounding—rhythmic runes
of an ancient race deglaciating, frozen through the ages, blood calling
out to minds gone porous and brittle, to seek infernal nourishment.
Revive the bones you cast, then cast aside. A gathering of new moons
awaits you, woman, eastward in a glade of birch and poplar, offering
truths of schist and calcite to obviate the old. But is she listening?
Seasick, I heave and wonder where and when I lost my cunning,
this off-center wheel, an elliptic wobble, was once fueled by levity
and is now grave, slick and sickened with false lubricants. Levity,
I remain persuaded, is no less a natural law than gravity. Water fall
water rise, fountaining. Even the roughest seas evaporate. This brevity
of vision, a toxicant, with each passing day is sounding
less and less like me. Emptied, I chart the bronze-edged moon’s
phases on the map above my birth, a pregnant gibbous calling
from an age that shunned the notion of lack of nourishment;
broadsided, my cosmetic bag spills across the floor: new runes.
At the edge of Tapiola’s waterfall, Kerttu braids her hair, listening;
tall and strong-boned, she dreams of majesty, of cool rugged fjords
and to join the west-sailing exodus. Well-crafted spinner, cunning,
she collects stones in defiance, builds secret cairns in offering
to all that heaves and grieves beneath her feet, exiled, offering
ignorance, refusing any yarns, spun or dyed, that offend her levity.
She entrances a Norwegian and drinks from his sexual nourishment,
though he turns out a shallow pool, his soul fast bound, his fjords
over-fished. To the scree of his holy scrip, she stops listening
and buries on the eve of their sailing a trace of girl-soul in the runes
of her homeland in hopes of reaching a consequent feminine, calling
across time, particulate, tumbled ashore by a truer god-sounding.
The postal bus drops me off at the village of my forebears, a cunning
pleroma of farms and birch groves, church and graveyard; the brevity
of commerce is restful to the eyes. Outside my one-room cabin, a waterfall
framed between shimmering aspens is stenciled through cut-out moons
silvering upon the screen door. At these latitudes, approaching solstice, the moon’s
lost her midnight prominence. I walk the forested paths of my godmother, offering
thanks, well-lit, for the respite from greed and bank towers. Beyond the waterfall
I find the bridge she used to talk about, laughing with unashamed brevity
where she kissed boys, braided grass circlets and sang loihturunot, old cunning,
poem-songs that spin new worlds into being; all this she remembered, sounding—
We gather in the Old Way, male Fennic carvers and chanters of runes
filaments of affection have conjured us; wide-open thought fields of nourishment
have summoned Ilkka, poet-singer of fame, and the Blind One, who’s listening
with the soles of his feet. Bonfires crackling, forearms we link in fraternal levity
to rebirth the heroes of Kaleva through pole star merge of Finn and fjords:
Ilmatar of air and light, seize her by the hand, we’re calling
Thor of fearsome thunder might, fuse her to the land, we’re calling
forth and back we rhyme the sequence, moons
in elemental frequence. Cast upon her now the cunning
spin the golden threads, the sunning, runes
we rock of blood and bone, waken Väinämöinen’s offering
turns he through us, burns he through us, wizard king of lake and fjords.
—as if it were yesterday. From across the bridge, a man approaches. Nourishment
I’ve brought, apples, bread and cheese, enough to share. Though he’s sounding
no footfall when his boot heels meet wood, I feel only calm—some waterfall
lunacy, no doubt. Flaxen hair to shoulders, he is tall and lightly bearded. Levity
from deep inside my belly shoots heartward. Welcome to ammo, he says. Listening
not so well, I say, what? Mmm, gjetost. He reaches out, smiling, man of brevity.
I hand him a wedge of goat cheese. Who are you, I ask, no stranger myself to brevity.
He sits on a fallen log and eats, regarding me in the way that men do, thus calling
to mind my godmother’s encounter eighty years ago at this very waterfall.
You’re not Norwegian and fond of kropsut, are you? I proffer him an apple offering.
Of Nordic race iambic seed, he says, of vanquished realms and distant fjords
created. Ammo, carried north by ancient Ugric tribes, is written in the runes
of your wheel that spins, meaning time of no time, agglutinating nourishment
to all that is and ever be. I am ennu pappi, oracle priest, the man of cunning
who tutored Kerttu in a spiral of this very solstice. His lyric speech sounding
like blue-green seas of juniper, I wonder whether o-priests are celibate. Moons
ago, he says, quatrinities spun freely in eternal ascension, keeping the levity
of earth and man in balance, dimensional monarchies, ever charged and listening
chopping blandishments and follies at their root. He pauses. Are you listening?
Me? What the heck are you going on about? I crunch into an apple: brevity.
You are a pulse star blinking on and off. You are expanding fjords
upon a horizontal field, seeded and terrained by tides of thought-moons,
invaded, sadly, by false kings, ordinal descending integers, who demand offering
to a belief in continuity—not the ever-after, for happily, mind, is a cunning
truth—but the never-changing and its rank gravitational pull. This waterfall
brought on the Great Deluge that drowned humanity. I and others did a sounding:
all were dead, save Utnapishtim, who heeded, his three sons and Nature. Calling
upon Hel, fierce goddess of the lower realm, we, a delegation of nine, pleaded runes
scrip of wood and stone to reseed the flooded and now fertile banks of levity.
From her barge on rivers of magma, Hel seethed: I am the essence of nourishment, sending up continuous terra potentia to all. Yet all I see is malnourishment.
Here, he paused, silver eyes glistening, and I took his hand for I had been listening.
I picked up the thread. She asked us what we would give in exchange—her brevity
shot fields of ice across the earth. Panicked, I broke through the ranks, offering
whatever—we have means of paying! She looked at me and laughed, a waterfall
of lava. You, mortal, of water and clay? You are my creation, a spring surge of levity,
dust of my feet. No. I shook my head. I am your precreation, gifted with cunning.
Womb in exile, I have watched you spin the horizontal field, mapping out fjords
and firmaments. I can be your surety. Plant in me the seeds of remembering. Moons
will pass and when the world floods again to the point of deluge, I’ll heed the calling.
I will cast off the knots of forgetting, false banishment, to spin a new field, sounding
true depths of verse and converse, mother-of-all, your sacred loving art of runes.
So now I am at home listening, and life, sweet life, is sounding
new, like it never was before. Fjords reach out boldly, majestic waterfall
cascades; the nourishment of joy spins out my hours. Fun-loving moons
pull me here and there, offering temptations; I appreciate their brevity.
No strings, only this moment calling the shots. Everywhere, I see runes
guiding me with levity, toward your smile ever-bright and cunning.
© June 21, 2011, Summer Solstice
Image: Lisa Bobechko, photographer
Dedicated to Kerttu Kyllönen, my godmother
who kept her passion alive for nearly 100 years