A mock sestina for Poem

Jill and Carolee have a fun poetry site aptly called Poem, where they post a poem for participants to read, enjoy, study, and maybe use as a springboard for writing. The first for this season is Denise Duhamel’s mock sestina, Delta Flight 659: to Sean Penn.

My imitation is about a local celebrity, a gorilla named Willie B, who was kept indoors for 27 years, until they renovated the Atlanta Zoo. It’s so sad to see animals kept locked up.

I see this piece as more of an exercise than a poem, and a hard exercise at that. In Denise Duhamel’s piece, she plays on Sean Penn’s name, ending each line with a different word that includes the syllable pen. I’m very impressed with her results now that I’ve tried it myself.

Glass Houses

In Atlanta there lived a gorilla named Willie B
who died in 2000, the year before
911. He was forty, I remember,
because I was too, just beginning
a new millennium as Willie B’s heartbeats
were fading, six years after his baby

Kudzoo was born. The last time we saw Willie B
he squatted between
boulders on a hillside, behind
thick glass walls, maybe
listening to human kids bellowing
Willie B! Willie B! Bees

and flies drew invisible lines beneath
tree limbs where he lounged on a bed
of grass, near females nursing babies.
His eyes were as dark as tea. Crabby
kids pressed their hands on the glass, beseeching
Willie B to pound his chest like a typical beast,

as if he were King Kong, bedazzled
by a lovely blonde. But he was no sucker for bedlam,
he was the prince of his tribe, a beatific
icon who didn’t seem to notice the bedraggled
trees in the pretend forest, or the Frisbees
flying through the sky beyond

the walls of his outdoor bedroom.
His keepers had made him live behind
bars for twenty-seven years, in a room befitting
an ax murderer or an embezzler.
Now he was as free as the Bengal
tiger in the zooscape nearby.

He had a full belly and his days were benign,
a becoming epitaph for human beings
too, we who bate bears and belabor the point that we’re human.

10 thoughts on “A mock sestina for Poem

  1. Marilyn Zembo Day says:

    Reading your poem, there’s no indication of your struggle to create a sestina– it reads smoothly, no stumbling as you simply tell the story of poor Willie B. Great job with the “be” words. I love your 3-line summation. Excellent poem. (I never knew about Willie before either!).


  2. deb says:

    This is delightful. You’ve given a being a fitting epitaph, and chided humanity, too. (40-years seems so young for a gorilla. Sad, sad. Sad for those 27-years.)

    (And it doesn’t read like an exercise, either.)


  3. Michelle says:

    C, you are clever. I would never attempt something like this and, if I did, the result wouldn’t be half as good. I love all the detail. Like Deb says, it doesn’t read like an exercise.

    Poor Willy B.


  4. Linda Jacobs says:

    There are so many wonderful word choices in this…words you probably wouldn’t have used if you weren’t using the “be” words. And they are so perfect! Like the “crabby kids” and the “Frisbees” and “bedazzled” They bring the poem to life!

    I like how easily this reads, too! It paints a sad picture of Willie B in a most creative way.


  5. jo says:

    Wow…….I love this and you did such an incredible job. You’re so good at these form pieces. I love so many lines here, but my favourite is the eyes dark as tea, I saw him right then in perfect technicolour. Thanks. Poor Willie B.


  6. carolee says:

    i agree — you’ve done this skillfully! i had to keep reminding myself that each line was ending with a “be”-word. i’ve been making an attempt at my own, following duhamel’s example and our discussion at poem and agree with you: very hard!


  7. Julie says:

    This poem is so beautiful and captures the sadness and futility of zoos perfectly. Stanzas 3 and 4 have so many excellent details (the flies, his eyes, etc.), but what really puts a lump in my throat are these lines:

    “His keepers had made him live behind
    bars for twenty-seven years, in a room befitting
    an ax murderer or an embezzler.
    Now he was as free as the Bengal
    tiger in the zooscape nearby.”

    Caged like an ax murderer or an embezzler! What a powerful statement. What began as an exercise is now a wonderful poem.


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