Editor’s Note: As of August 14, 2006, we are no longer accepting sestina submissions.
The Seven Signs.
She already exhibits four of the seven signs
of imminent death, my sister reads the Xerox sheet
the social worker sent. Too late—the kids
lunge for the almost fumbled phone, pile on top
of the baby. The oldest uses the cord for double
Dutch, my shushes and shutups provide the chants.
I try to convince my sister there is no chance
of reversal, that the deep and glorious sign-
off her friends encourage her to expect will only double
the letting go. She’s white as a sheet,
barely eats, but throws her legs over the top
of the bedrail all night, dangling them like a kid
And when denial strikes, we both know I’m kidding
when I bring up my father’s blind belief in chance
over necessity, what almost took him to the top
of science, the atomic blast he could have designed
but didn’t. Now he tears her soiled sheets
and measures detergent in calibrated beakers, double
strength to stanch the stench of death. Double
her pain meds, the hospice says, no kidding
around, this stuff you see oozing on the sheet
is her flesh melting off her bones, and the deep chants
abrading like a Russian hymn are her rendition (sign
six) of her dead answering her call, flopping on top
and shaking what’s left inside loose, leaving the top
free to glare at us who stay, redoubling
our efforts. What strange and eerie kind of sign
was it when we talked on the phone? Even the kids
grew quiet, the baby gnawed the nipple, my last chance
to hear her voice—before the winding sheet
gets wound, its starch crackling and crazing like sheet-
rock in the early stages of demolition, about to top-
ple under the Renovator’s blows. No chance
it will be left standing in the end. Doubly
strange for us offspring—parents retracting into kids,
meeting ours along the way, flashing signs.
O take them from the top again, these signs,
on the off-chance one’s missed. Double-
check the folded sheet, prepare the kids.
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