Sunday 1 March 2020

Deep and Red

by Nick Gisburne

The ritual defiles each waking day
We wait, and know that one of us will die
Two savage cuts will mark the victim’s head
The scarlet cross of judgement, deep and red
Relief for those untouched, those free to cry
Cold silence from the one they take away

Yet still our captors find another way
To magnify the torment of the day
They leave, and when our eyes no longer cry
At sunset, as the day begins to die
When evening brings the shadows, deep and red
They come to find the mark upon the head

She kneels before them, slow to lift her head
Pale fingers try to brush the hair away
It mats and tangles, bloody, deep and red
This simple moment ends her final day
They lead her into darkness, there to die
She screams, a twisted, agonising cry

We hear the bullet; silence kills her cry
The cross a shattered target on her head
This is no way to live, no way to die
Together we must build a better way
And long before we greet the break of day
On all our heads are crosses, deep and red

Their disbelieving eyes blaze, deep and red
And we who stand before them do not cry
They leave us, but do not return this day
Each mark protects the mind within its head
Together we have found a better way
Together, we no longer fear to die

Tomorrow, doubtless, one of us will die
But we will bleed defiance, deep and red
The cuts, the crosses, none will wash away
And if we falter, if we fall and cry
Or face a thousand bullets to the head
At least we learned to live for one more day

A sestina – one of my favourite poetic forms, which is why this is now my fourth.

The narrative is not based around any true historical event. This was my attempt to capture the strength of the human spirit. When all hope seems lost, sometimes we can find a tiny light in the darkness.

After writing several sestinas, I still cannot find a way to appreciate the need for the 3-line envoi, which is supposed to be attached to the end of the poem. It really stands out like a sore thumb and wrecks everything I’ve tried to build. It’s the equivalent of watching a movie, seeing it coming to a perfect conclusion, and then having a narrator say, “And the moral of the story is, don’t trust anyone called Darth.” Believe me, I tried to write one, but it didn’t work for this poem at all, so in this case there is no envoi.

Note that I did add an envoi in my very first sestina, The Jagged Killing Knife, but perhaps I was just lucky, or the narrative took me in a fortunate direction. I may think about the ending before the beginning next time, to see what I can come up with.

I found a lovely quote from Stephen Fry, in his book The Ode Less Travelled, at the start of his section describing how to create a sestina:
This is a bitch to explain but a joy to make.
My thoughts exactly!