Broken Arm Sestina

This is a sestina I wrote when I was waiting to get surgery after my arm got broken. A sestina, for those of you who don’t know, is a poem with six stanzas and an envoi. Each stanza has six lines, and each line ends with one of the same six words in a different order. The three-line envoi at the end has all six words, two per line. The challenge for the poet is to come up with new ways to reuse each of the six words so that they appear fresh in the readers’ minds. I used a sestina form to talk about having a broken arm and waiting around, because waiting around at home for a week while you’re sorta crippled involves a lot of repetition of the same tiny things over and over again, as an escape from the boredom of being basically unable to do anything. The six words I picked were open, sunlight, calico, alternating, painkillers, and boring.

The pain shimmies down the arm. I could open

the Velcro braces on the cast, but we’d just be alternating

from worse to a different kind of worse, no? The calico

cat pads in to peek at me on the bed, to find sunlight,

to take its feline stock of the room. Time for more painkillers.

Even Netflix playing through this stasis seems boring.

Who sings this theme song? Enya? Her wails boring

into my ear cavities, blood pounding in my open

heart. When this prescription of cheap codeine painkillers

runs out, I have to go back to alternating

ibuprofen and paracetamol, 500 grams of sunlight

which give me peace, at least for a 6-hour period, a bitter calico

flavor as they dissolve. My cheap-ass laptop flickers in calico.

The screen tells me the battery’s weak, but I don’t care. If I have to watch one more boring

episode of a ten-year-old series with youthful actors, I’ll leap into sunlight

and let the rest of my bones splinter in the open

air. A siren in the distance, its alternating

pitches briefly scare the kids dealing painkillers,

who confuse the paramedics with neighborhood cops. Painkillers

don’t work, not totally. Not enough to shut out the calico-

patterned ache and release, relief and spasms alternating.

Waiting around for a surgery can be awfully boring.

Waiting around until some septuagenarian surgeon has an open

slot in his schedule. Perhaps it was the privilege, the sunlight

of education bestowed upon him, perhaps it was just the sunlight

of money gave him the authority to dole out painkillers,

and these opiods make me constipated. I startle the cat yet again as I head through the open

kitchen door to make another pot of coffee, she gallops, a calico

tinkling from a bell at her throat. The caffeine boring

through my guts make my cycle an alternating

spectacle of rancid farts. My plug shorts out. Netflix vanishes. The alternating

current from the outlet has died in a flash of electric sunlight.

It’s dark, for a few minutes. The cat again pokes her furry head in, finds me boring,

leaves. Would I be more interesting on painkillers?

You know you’re in trouble when you barter the calico

of your consciousness for a cat’s attention. I’m open

to the idea. Could be boring, but anything’s better than this alternating

weight of open suffering in the Junebug sunlight,

high on painkillers, the skin above the bone in bruise of calico.

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1 comment
  1. Good illustrations too. You are one of the few people I know who would take this as an opportunity for writing a sestina (Anthea’s roommate is another). Thanks for sharing it —

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