My first sestina

A challenge for poetry class. Still in the works.


Massage therapist

She plows molehills out from under my shoulder blades
Plucks daisies from my ribcage
She kneads her hands into my back
“You’re so tense, so uptight, relax, relax,
Let me cut back the grass!”
I sink back into the seat

Watch the roots come up like snakes under my seat
She beats down stalactites dripping from my shoulder blades
But this hurts more, they’ve already crystallized underneath the grass
My spine is a harp echoing fractured melodies through my ribcage
She tells me there would be less to upheave, if I would just relax
These growths are unnerving her, she’s never seen an overgrown back

Ladybugs and butterflies sleep in the small of my back
It takes a few careful fingers to send them fluttering over my seat
Salamanders slumber in moldy turquoise lakes, if only I could relax
Like them, then maybe there would be less tension in my shoulder blades
She reaches into the water, fishes them out and lets them crawl down my ribcage
I watch the spaces around us turn yellow and brown with dead grass

My skin is a teeming landscape, not sinew, entirely grass
It’s flowered with all my grave mistakes, taking refuge on my back
Here it takes shape, all this unresolved heartache, like flesh on my ribcage
Now she sees the wasteland of soul, now she picks it apart across my back
It’s feels like eternity, it feels like solitude sitting in this cold seat
And for the five millionth time she advises me to just relax

She’s not the first person to tell me that, not the first one to say relax
But if I didn’t have all this stress, how would I feed all the grass?
They don’t feed on skin or bone, they don’t draw strength from shoulder blades
I know well enough that anxiety waters them, keeps them green on my back
They haven’t died yet, she’s just pruned them back, they’re green on my seat
I’m nearly plucked bare, all I’ve got is the flesh surrounding my ribcage

I feel so naked, so vulnerable, it’s like all I am in the bones in my ribcage
Okay, this isn’t the end of the world, I’ve still got hair, and skin, relax, relax
I’m ashamed enough to leave her here and bolt right out of my seat
What am I without the salamanders, the lakes, the weeds and the grass?
I plot to find something new to mark me, a tattoo or a brand to cover my back
How can I tend to this newfound space, this canvas between two shoulder blades?
She tells me it’s beautiful, the bare space around ribcage
I have a lot going for me, it could be so beautiful, if could just relax
I thank her for the massage session, try to take this to heart, scamper from the seat

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2 thoughts on “My first sestina

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