Swan Songs

Sestina on the theme of "The Twelve Swan Brothers" a Danish Fairytale 


Sestina on the theme of "The Twelve Swan Brothers" a Danish Fairytale


Spin and loop and curve and twist, go down then over, weep and roam
What a pretty curse, to knit of nettles a thousand silver strands.
A dainty well-wrought fortune spun for my lady-tender hands.
I stood on a chair to watch you twelve go riding out the gate,
Your white doe leathers, winter hair, through thick flakes of feather-weight,
A blue glance, a wave and wink, but then, you never did come home.
A new Queen, moving higher, yes, all such plots begin at home...
“Mount the tower, sweeting,” she said, “To fly as your brothers roam.”
Dim moon, sea-lace on rocks, I eager to air my little weight—
Stepping glad to the opiate sky; caught near the seaweed strands.
Swan wings so strong, I barely hitS my chin on the iron gate.
They had always carried me, now in a net, now without hands.
My brothers migrate on pierced winds; they wait upon my hands.
An old stone spindle, bone needles, but without soft wool from home.
Crone-child I at moonlit graves, pull nettles by the Hangman’s gate
Pale fibers, retting sea, the spindle ulcers seep, dance and roam,
Slower than winter honey, hope is the balm of nettle strands:
Time without love, cold without fire, any blessing will test the weight.
Now guess! Another sister’s brother comes and bears a hundred weight
Of fine-combed milky nettle fibers, a gift to save my hands.
He throws down a red wool shawl, tucks back these wind-tossed strands,
Hears my witched silence, shrugs, and still beckons me toward home.
Now in a tower and by a fire, I hear the wild birds roam
My blisters weep enchanted wells; beggars sleep outside our gate.
The court smells witchcraft on my skin, makes fire at the postern gate.
He comes to ask me now to speak; my tongue longs to bear his weight.
This far north the birds return so late; the boys with swan-mind roam.
Not one stitch dropped in all these years, now fear betrays my hands
Twelve sons rode out ten years ago, tonight will twelve fly home?
I hate the nettle juices the wounds, the oozing star-cold strands.
But love has bound the blisters, and memory weaves the strands,
We thirteen dirty children throwing apples at the gate.
It’s early May, the bonfire burns, and sleet is riding home.
The last hem, for the last sleeve, of thread a penny-weight,
Purling as the cartwheels turn, all thistle-burned my woman hands,
A decade among the tousled stars, will you keep your wings to roam?
Home-made curses roost this night, I can’t unknot the strands
Roam, if you must, the carded clouds. Twelve tunics lie at the gate.
Weight-bearing, soft, at last, their long wings descend to brush my hands.

On Writer's Block