The Bear, a sestina

April is National Poetry Month, so I’ll be posting a few poems this season.  Currently I spend more time writing prose stories instead of poems, so it’s been fun for me to look back at poems I wrote in past decades.

This poem is from a period when I was experimenting with classic forms.   When I was younger, I had steered away from such forms, thinking they would cramp my creativity.  Instead I found that the discipline required was paradoxically very freeing.  The constraints of the form would point me in a certain direction, and often lines would come to me unbidden, as if by magic.  It seemed a very spiritual experience.

As you can see, the sestina consists of six verses, each with six lines.  The same end-words repeat in every verse, their order prescribed by the rules of the form.  Don’t worry about figuring it out, just enjoy!



Afternoon sun lays a golden hand

on the cinnamon brown

head of an advancing bear,

loping west

past snow-melt river

to sanctuary of spicy redwoods.


From safe perch atop redwoods

she watches, her hands

itching to feel cool river

rush across sore fingers, feet, and aching brown

limbs, but seductive west

beckons her to follow robust bear.


Powerful bear,

my fear and fascination, redwood

heart, wise elder of the west,

gift my hands

with healing and forgiveness, brown

angels of the valley, wash me in the river.


Swift is the river

that carries me to my bear.

He looms in large shadows, nut brown

in fragrant forest dense with redwoods

extending feathery hands

leading me farther west.


The sun is melting into west

between the river

and my hands.

Fearsome bear

lovingly embraces me, redwoods

sway, my sky a muddy brown.


His face is cinnamon, his eyes coco brown.

Orange and pomegranate drift west

above the redwoods.

Autumn river

slows down; mighty bear

prepares to sleep; he frees my hands.


My hands, brown and bare, flutter like slender birds

winging west along this river/redwood freedom/empty sky.


Photo by Jessica Weiller on Unsplash.

More info on how to write a sestina:

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