Sestina, with Christmas Lights [from Vanishing Tracks]

Sestina, with Christmas Lights [from Vanishing Tracks]

Through the graves of trees comes a quiet that is almost conscious.
A memory in search of its strength, like blood racing to the heart
To be replenished with oxygen. In that quiet is our quick
Reinvention, and we have forgotten already who we were, what our stories
Were about, in the way that the clump of unplugged Christmas lights
Has nothing to do with Christmas. I had a similar feeling in a hotel

Once, where I did not recognize my story as being set in a hotel
But there I was. I was home in a way I was not even conscious
Of acknowledging, as Christmas is not acknowledged by Christmas lights
But by acknowledging the birth of something brand new in our hearts
That just might save us if we can forget all the stories
That have come before it, if our sense of eternity’s quick

Enough to follow tracks time’s flurries are so quick
To fill. It’s too cold outside: back to memory’s mansion or is it a hotel
Of the same room comfortably over and over, the same stories
In generic bedrooms we’re nearly content in without us being conscious
Of not having slept there before? The past is leading my heart
To a place the past cannot be, but like one short in Christmas lights

May darken an entire string, most of which would still light if the Christmas lights
Were wired differently. But we can’t change the way we’re wired or how quick
Darkness in one triggers a darkness in many. Right now your heart
Just pumped a liter of blood in one beat, like checkout time at a hotel
Where everybody knows they’re coming back but are conscious
They will get a different room that will be familiar as the stories

They grew up with are different from the stories
They tell. And still nobody has invented better Christmas lights.
When I speak to my mother about Christmas she is no longer conscious
Of memory as memory, it is the tree her speech lands on like the quick
Accumulation of snow on branches. It is like she is wandering in a hotel
Where her key opens every door and every room touches her heart

Though she’s no longer talking about Christmas. I don’t have the heart
To correct her, or maybe I have heart enough to know her stories
Are closer to being correct, they’re all there in the same hotel
Like a convention of amnesiacs, and either the Christmas lights
Are lit or they are not, but their keys fit all the doors now, and quick
As a wink there’s a mint beside the bed of all that is conscious.

Boxing up ornaments and taking down the tree, the family was suddenly conscious
Of disconcerted movement: two weeks in warmth, and hatched hungry to the quick,
Hundreds of praying mantis glittered like unexpected Christmas lights.

5 thoughts on “Sestina, with Christmas Lights [from Vanishing Tracks]

  1. quirknjive

    Brilliant! I am so taken by the last two poems you have posted. My mother suffers from dementia and has been on a rapid decline. Your treatment of memory and perception in these works is fascinating, especially for someone who is witnessing how both can become so distorted.

  2. Jeff Schwaner Post author

    Thanks. I’m sorry to hear about your mother, and am at least glad you are seeing something recognizable in the poems. It changes how you think of identity, doesn’t it? What really makes someone who they are, and who they are to you personally? I found that while my mother became harder to communicate with, and her ability to recognize me gradually left her, along with her ability to speak with any coherence, that some base elements of her personality remained, and still remain now, four years later. I’ve always felt that even with our best friends, our life’s most important loves, that it’s the most respectful and truthful thing to recognize how little we really know one another, and engage our favorite people each day as if they are a brand new mystery in our lives. Nowhere has this method been more important than in relating to my mother these last six years, which to me proves that somewhere in it is the key to dealing respectfully with others, too. Good luck with this ongoing thing, which in many ways is both a challenge and a privilege. Many lose their loved ones without having the time to say this “long goodbye,” and there is great opportunity to appreciate life and love here. Touch base with me any time.

  3. memadtwo

    I had seven years of my mother with Alzheimer’s and now my aunt too. Interesting that at the beginning of my aunt’s problems she was insistant that I fly to Indiana and spend some time. And I’m glad I did. There are definitely layers that we can never know or understand under the best of circumstances.
    Beautiful poem. (K)


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