The Sestina Has Been Sinking, by Steve Davenport

The Sestina Has Been Sinking

for EMW

Sestina, tonight’s the night I push you off the overpass.
I’m done with your six kinds of hell. Your demanding sky,
your French complications, your clouds in my happy wagon,
your forty-two words for rain, your pearl-handled gun,
this concrete and asphalt that leap-frogs the low ground
locals call the Bottom, dirt cursed with industry and blood.

I’m done with your sixes and sevens, the pressure of blood
at the thirty-nine sutures pinning us to this long overpass
you keep calling me to, far above the patchy ground
that only we who grew up here could think deserves a sky,
any sky, even this one with its petro stink. I too have a gun,
this twelve-gauge I’m pulling loaded from my buckshot wagon.

May your pieces make a smart pattern. May the dead wagon
carry a vacuum and glue. If there are forty-two words for hell,
I expect thirty-nine of them to be you. You need a real gun,
Sestina, my dirt under your nails, the rough of this overpass
for texture, the heft of a gunite hose shooting two-up at the sky
to make a holy road for rich pilgrims heading for better ground,

which means rolling or manicured or ode-worthy, any ground
but this petro dirt you call me back to with talk of the wagon
that will save you. I’d do the Crazy Wing through a bad sky
if I thought I had anything new for you and your stale blood,
your long form, the way your returns wrap this overpass,
Sestina, in the same old sixes and sevens. Better someone gun

you down than endure one more round of blanks from the gun
you pull from your obvious garter. Better the hard ground
meet you falling than I waste my love from this overpass
on your history, the stretch marks you earned on the art wagon.
Bottom needs steel, slaughterhouses, freight trains bringing blood
and thump of flesh on flesh to make its rough song, one part sky

to five parts slag and spill, glorious smokestacks praising the sky,
canals, and river, a round of voices joining as I lift my shotgun
and new ashes settle all over this Bottom I love like blood.
Time for us to go, Sestina, double-pumped to sky and ground,
me to open fields, where I’ll whistle past the dead wagon,
and you to your forty-two words for life after overpass.

We promise to curse the sky. We deliver our ends to the ground.
We’re loaded on the meat wagon. We love the noise of the gun.
Here is the blood we love. Here is where we leave the overpass.

Steve Davenport is the author of Uncontainable Noise (2006), which won Pavement Saw Press’s Transcontinental Poetry Prize. His “Murder on Gasoline Lake,” listed as Notable in Best American Essays 2007, is available as a New American Press chapbook. Recent publications include a lyrical essay in Northwest Review, poetry and fiction in The Southern Review, and a scholarly essay about Richard Hugo’s poetry in All Our Stories Are Here: Critical Perspectives on Montana Literature (University of Nebraska Press, 2009).

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