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Borrowing from Elizabeth Bishop

Updated on December 27, 2013
Me & My Grandmother (shortly before leaving and not seeing her for over 20 years)
Me & My Grandmother (shortly before leaving and not seeing her for over 20 years) | Source


This is my second attempt at writing a sestina, and as the title states, I have borrowed from Elizabeth Bishop in that I use the same six repeated words from her poem, "Sestina", which can be found here. Those six words are house, grandmother, child, stove, almanac, and tears. Although I use her six words, my poem is purely an original. That might be why I say "borrowing", instead of "stealing".

Furthermore, this poem is semi-autobiographical. This poem tells a fictional story, but some aspects are true. I am indeed the only son of my grandmother's second son, and I did spend my childhood away from and not knowing my father's side of the family. As I stated in a few of my other hubs, my mother left my father when I was three months old. Also, my grandmother no longer lives in her house. She lives in a nursing home, but one of my cousins lives in her house. Therefore, unlike the ending, my grandmother is still very alive, and she and I have had many conversations about my dad after he passed away in June 2008. She is now over 90 years old and still possesses a wit and sharp tongue. I love her very much, and this poem is for her.

Me & My Grandmother (June 2008)
Me & My Grandmother (June 2008) | Source

Borrowing from Elizabeth Bishop

i arrived at her light green house.
in the doorway, i saw my smiling grandmother.
i am her second son’s only male child.
she took my hand and led me to a wood stove.
she pointed to a crate of books and one almanac.
in her eyes, i saw welled-up tears.

my father’s death caused her many tears.
his absence left her alone in a big, empty house.
when she picked up the tattered almanac,
my heart broke for my beloved grandmother.
i also noticed that no heat came from the stove,
and she shivered like a frightened child.

she often calls me her long, lost grandest child,
but that time, those words drowned in her tears.
i watched her as she stared at the wood stove;
as if it was the only thing in the house.
i put my left hand on the right shoulder of my grandmother
after she dropped my father’s favorite almanac.

my father only ever owned this one almanac,
which he had since he was a child.
“he was always my favorite”, confessed Grandmother.
her confession produced a new set of tears.
with a shiver, she said it was getting cold in the house,
and together, we lit a small fire in the old wood stove.

we sat, chatted, and enjoyed the warmth of the stove,
and i fidgeted with my dad’s old, tattered almanac.
the smell of the burning wood filled the house.
as she sat with a look of lost child,
i could see in her eyes another welling of tears,
and my heart felt the pain within my grandmother.

i stood up and offered my hand to my grandmother,
and we walked past the now nicely hot stove.
at the front door, i kissed her cheek through the tears.
she cracked a slight smile and insisted i take the almanac.
Nana waved goodbye to me as if i were still a child,
and i drove away as she stepped back into the house.

now, years later, through tears, i read Dad’s almanac.
Death has taken my grandmother, and we sold the stove.
All that remains is this child alone in her empty house.

© 2013 Charles Dawson


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