Another Sestina (Sigh….) “Vacuum”

(Supposed to be cigarette smoke)

This is a poem,  a sestina, that I’ve posted before, but I’m linking it tonight to the liv2write2day blog of Victoria Ceretto-Slotto, in which she asks for poems writtenabout the dark, or shadowed, self.  I’ve written a lot of dark poems lately, so could not quite bear a new one, but this poem deals with these issues, at least for its characters.

The sestina is a fairly complex form which uses six six-line stanzas, each line ending one of six repeating words, closing with a three-line “envoie” that uses all six repeating words.  (More about the form in yesterday’s post.)   It’s a challenging form; the  goal is to make the repeated words hypnotic, ironic, thought-provoking, meaningful rather than formulaic or forced.


I’ve posted another sestina called “Pink” which is really a better poem then the one below.  This one was my first attempt and, although it uses the form, it does so by using fairly generic repeating words.  So, it’s a bit of a cheat.  (See, I’m already going to dark places!)

The poem tells a story, but keep in mind that it’s a creative work, which, in my case, at least, means it has large elements of fiction, dramatization, exaggeration.


When my aunt came to visit, they talked
of old times, my aunt hunching over
her cigarette, her heavy breasts held up
by an arm across her middle, my mother
smoking as well, her cheeks like a vacuum
cleaner, puffing out.  She only smoked when

her sister came, then turned into a teen when
the folks are out.  Gestures sullen, she talked
the rebel, as if to fill the vacuum
of her youth, when she never thought she’d get over
all the obstacles they’d set, her own mother
not understanding, no wonder she got fed up.

She loved them, yes, but everything was up
from there–farm life.  Especially then, when
owning land was something, not, like her mother
thought, everything.  You were still talked
about, looked down on, passed over,
a farm not bringing cash to fill the vacuum

of nice clothes, furniture, rugs to vacuum.
Though what they remembered–that night they stayed up–
was when the government took their land, building over
their farm a munitions plant for the war, and when
their father went north to rawer land, and they talked
of joining him when their own grandmother

was “stronger.”  (So they said.)  Loved by my mother,
the grandma favored her in turn, filling a vacuum
in the heart of the middle child, the child who talked
of appearances, sticking her nose up
the others thought, the grandma protecting her when
they mocked, but sick now, her life nearly over.

They worked shifts at the plant, then each took over
the grandma’s care–aunt, their mom, my mother.
‘But who was with her,” my aunt asked, eyes round, “when
she died?”  My mother thought: “I had out the vacuum,
I remember that.  Pulled it out after ringing up
the doctor,” my mother smoking hard now as she talked.

“So it was you,” my aunt said, “when—” “I tried to vacuum
fast.”  But slowly my mother spoke, smoke rising up
like traces of what could not be done over, slowly she talked.




P.S. I am also linking this piece to Imperfect Prose for Thursdays.  in the hush of the moon

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14 Comments on “Another Sestina (Sigh….) “Vacuum””

  1. Karin, this is wonderful. You execute this form so well. I love the sestina. I like to pick the words and then see where they take me. I might try to do one, too. I’ve been busy with book stuff and feel so uncreative right now. Hope to see other sestina’s from you. You know, this is weird but I’ve written a poem that has death and a vacuum in it too. Maybe I should post that one. We could get a secondary theme going. :0)

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Ha. Except that hopefully death and vacuums don’t truly go hand in hand! (Ha again, deeper.)

      I haven’t done very many sestinas. You may have read my other one, Pink, which is much better, I think. (I think you did read it–with the color prompt.) It’s linked to this one. I do like the form a lot, though it’s a real commitment because of the length. (I’ve done a couple of others but they weren’t very good or they were missing a line where I lost track.)

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thinking about this further–I haven’t written so many sestinas, but I think I do try to come up with general theme and then some good words first usually. I am a big cheater so I’ll often try to come up with homonyms, if I can, so that there is a little more flexibility.

  2. siggiofmaine Says:

    This is very well written and held my interest til the end.
    Love this very much.
    Thank you for sharing.
    Siggi in Downeast Maine

  3. I really like this–you’ve put us in the middle of this conversation. Like a fly on the wall, we can see these two women, cigarette smoke wafting around them, hear them talk about change and loss. Death and the dark side. Nicely penned!

  4. this is great in its imagery, without the explaination at the top, I would not have caught the form (not because it’s not good) in fact, the opposite, because you get pulled into the story.

  5. brian miller Says:

    nice story telling…you pull it off so well in the form as well…i like the early reference to the smoking like a vacuum as it sets up the vacuum again well later…of the heart and else where…cool form…i have yet to take that try…

  6. tinkwelborn Says:

    quote* it has large elements of fiction, dramatization, exaggeration. *unquote.
    What Wallace Stevens called ”Fictive” and Frost, ”Ulterior”

    Wow…what a metaphor ‘Vacuum’ is here.
    nice conversation and non-conversation piece: read what’s not spoken.
    seems ritualistic, the visitation and change of habit.
    It’s all darkly murky.

    thanks for sharing.

  7. wow.

    friend, you can write. this is powerful. truly.

  8. Bodhirose Says:

    I just posted my second (I think) Sestina–that’s a tricky one alright– but not for this prompt.

    Yours is very good because of the great flow of the story that you told with it–held my attention from start to finish. Really much better than your dark self tells you!

  9. Tino Says:

    Damn, that form looks so complex. I doubt I shall be trying one of these for sometime to come. You do an incredible job with it though, so much so, I am gobsmacked really.

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