Anna McLoud Gibbs

love story

You light me up like arsenic
on the teeth, sparks on slate,
rising like the sun. Dawn bred
the start, like an epic. Like a house,
we rose it. Wings on a moth,
we moved closer. Strong as an oak,

sparks – slight static – ignite moths
flying too close to the light of my house.
Like that, I am attracted to you. Slate
slides hot down the mountain. Oak
periodically kills its sapped leaves. Arsenic
kills, period. Like this, inevitable. This breed

of ideas: of lust, of eye contact, oak
solid. All you. Come to me first, our slate
is clean. The earth is crusted with arsenic. 
It lingers in the ocean. Men die like moths
at a flame, and the women burn their houses.
Like that. Concealed and quiet, rage breeds

in the hearts of men, solid as oaks, 
and women, fierce as arsenic,
who walk out of doors and burn houses.
Dual duel, and it’s like that. To breed,
to expand, to multiply. It’s endless moths
at the flame, dying always, new slates,

always alive. Hold me, you are my house;
and I sweep the porch. I brush off the slate,
beat the curtains. You check the breeding
chickens and feed the cat and curse the moths,
tangled ridiculously in your hair. Arsenic
doesn’t touch us. Maybe arson, my oak,

my love; fire shouldn’t scare us; slate
doesn’t burn, but changes. That houses
may burn and survive is novel to me, but moths
do it too. I was a scared child. Arsenic 
spiced my food and snowed in the oak
trees, and I hid in the house, which breeds

cocoons and static blood and slate
bones. Arson is better than arsenic,
cleaner than fresh snow, mothballs,
steam after a long bath. Like that, oak
trees survived all night, ablaze.
We watched them survive. If not my house,

you are my epic, I pray. Breed a feeling sure as slate.
Burn the house to the ground. The outline survives, like oak.
Like moths. Like that. We are bloody. And safe, sparkling like arsenic. 

This is a sestina attempt that I discovered in an old notebook from sophomore year of college. Sestinas are so cool. You can recognize them by their reuse of the same 6 end words in each stanza. My six end words were (if you couldn’t already tell) arsenic, slate, breed, house, moth, and oak. By nature, the sestina feels repetitive and overstated. This is part of the point.

I say “attempt” because, for one, it’s not really a proper sestina – I didn’t follow the correct order of the end words, but instead just used them in a random order. I also can’t help but feel the criticism one feels when reading old work and it feels slightly too angsty. Perhaps there’s too much fire and poison in there. But I wrote this while experiencing my first love, and I think this poem accurately captures those feelings. New love felt both powerful and fragile, safe and dangerous, something to praise and fear. It was the moth, and it was the flame that caught the moth’s eye.