Just a year into our marriage and my heart
was still, somehow, full to its brim with you.
On a day such as that, the usual; flowers
and a set of earrings that weren’t quite
my taste. You hadn’t even taken
the price off. And for her?
A necklace, that was her taste, and charmed her.
Triumphantly winning the heart
of someone you knew couldn’t be taken
again. But that didn’t stop you.
And I’ll admit, I wasn’t quite
convinced that you bought your mum the flowers.
Each day I’d watch my flowers
as they sank into an ugly mess. Quite
revolting, really. You called her,
daily, and thought I hadn’t taken
the hints. Without the heart
to tell my face, you coward! You
Piece of sh*t! I screamed at you,
and you asked if I’d taken
my medication. I asked about her,
and you took me and my broken heart
to see your mother. Surrounded by flowers
in a hospital bed. Quite
A shock, I couldn’t deny. And quite
the fool I felt. For a while, I held her
hand, and she thanked us for the flowers.
I ate a chocolate from a heart-
shaped box. Then, red-faced, scowling, you
drove me home, said I’d taken
Too much from you already. Taken?
I asked. And I saw her
sickening face as you shattered my vase of flowers.
I’d never seen something quite
so beautiful as those shards of glass. You
left me, staring at them, with my empty heart.
Everything had been taken. You’d given your heart
to her, but I knew you had been quite
right. All that remained of you, were the dead flowers.
I wrote this poem as a way of experimenting with form. Some of you may recognise this as a sestina. For those who don’t, a sestina is a poem that follows a strict pattern of the repetition of the six end-words of the first stanza throughout all following stanzas. The final word of the stanza must also be the first of the next. There is always a three-line stanza at the end that includes all six words. The form is quite difficult to explain (and just as difficult to write in!) but I eventually managed this narrative-like poem about a woman who falsely accuses her husband of having an affair.
When writing a sestina, an important part is deciding which six words you will be using to repeat throughout. I decided it would be easier if I chose words that had some different properties, i.e. concrete nouns, verbs and pronouns. I felt this would give me more space to experiment within the stanzas.
Although my main focus was making sure I kept within the rules of the form, I also tried to use some other poetic techniques such as symbolism. I wanted the flowers to vaguely represent the relationship between the two characters; “my flowers…sank into an ugly mess” and “you shattered my vase of flowers”. Creating rhythm and rhyme in a sestina is, for obvious reasons, very difficult, so I avoided trying to do that (though I do think the poem reads quite well as a monologue anyway).
Another important addition to the poem were the small sections of dialogue. Giving characters a concrete, distinguishable voice in poetry is a fantastic way to bring them to life. The woman in this poem is clearly very troubled, and has issues trusting her husband. However, I also tried to create implications that she was mentally unstable. This became clearer in the line “asked if I’d taken my medication”, though I felt the dialogue, showing the extent of her over-reaction could have been a clue to this.
I hope you enjoyed my attempt at a sestina!
Some questions from me:
Would you have noticed the unusual form if it hadn’t been pointed out?
Do you believe the husband or the wife?
Thank you for reading xxx