Hug (a sestina)

(c) 1983 by Levi Montgomery

Now the child gives his dog a hug.
He is leather; he is sharp
as clouds; in his eyes the cool
belief of blue. In surprise
he watches tides that come to ruin
castles. The die is cast, the stalks are cut.

Now the kindergarten children cut
their paper dolls. Their teachers hug
them into jackets, let them ruin
hairdos in their haste to gain the sharp
relief of freedom. Imagine their surprise,
at leaving classrooms, to find the evening cool.

Now the adolescents play at cool.
They light their cigarettes and cut
the others down with glares. Their surprise
is even greater. Do not hug
them. Do not give them sharp
emotion. They are smoldered ruin.

Now the youth who from that ruin
rise are done with playing cool.
Their glares are still as sharp;
their tongues now, too, will cut
like ice, and now they’ll let you hug
them, to gain from your surprise.

Now the parents, in surprise,
observe their children growing. Ruin
they have sown, and ruin reaped. They would hug
their children, but the flames have all grown cool.
The bonds they long for all are cut
away by a self honed razor sharp.

Now the elders smell the acrid sharp
decay. They are far beyond surprise.
The die is too long cast, its roll cut
too far short. They lie in splintered ruin.
They pray that one more breeze will cool
them; they pray for one more hug.

Now the scene is sharp: the world lies in ruin.
Imagine the surprise of the dog whose cool
tongue would soothe the wounds cut in arms that cannot hug.

For an explanation of the sestina form, please click here.

And of course, no sestina would be complete without the comment by poet Robert Frost:

If you drape thirty-nine iron chains around your arms and shoulders and then do a dance, the whole point of the dance will be to seem light and effortless.


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