Sestina for the Sorrow of the Apes





The year was probably 1993, maybe 1994. I was at the Iowa Writers Workshop, and about to go out with poet Pat and literatto Larry, two people who lived in the same house. Generally nice fellas, they had a twinning brainwarp before my very eyes, a situation so odd as to be beyond my powers of description, as I lack the psychological background to consider it anything but a very temporary cousin of folie a deux. The set up is quite simple: Pat and I, while waiting for Larry, somehow got on the subject of the poetic form called the Sestina, which I had never heard of. Pat began explaining it, then dashed up to his place to get a famoust one to show me. By then Larry had arrived. I was curious enough to want to understand the form before we set off, but rather felt rather hurried and got to making the mistake of speaking what I was thinking, which was on the order of, Let’s see, so the first line of the second stanza has to end with the same word as the last word of the last line of the first…That’s not so hard…To which they bleated in unison as if Swiss guardians of the form for life: Oh yeah! You try it! It was truly bizarre, for I had no desire whatsoever to be a poet, to be known as a poet, to be thought of as capable or incapable of poetizing…I asked that they calm themselves, I was only saying…And then again I noticed some technical necessity and reacted more or less the same way (a limerick is technically simple, of course, but YOU TRY IT!!!), as did they yet with greater taunt and disdain. So I asked Pat, the more legitimately poet of the two, whether the author of the Sestina chose the key sentence ending words before the poem or after the first stanza was finished. First stanza, he said. So I said Ape, Crap, Swine, Divine, Desquamate, and Pat, in about the time it took me to type that, just to have a little fun, and quickly dashed off the first two stanzas below, minus a couple corrections for, rather than laughing at my simian antics and hustling out for beer, they sneered and jeered–the first line wasn’t even in iambic pentameter! So I prevailed upon them to teach me what iambic pentameter is and set about re-writing. That was too much for them. Disgusted they left for the bar, having made clear that I was mired in bad taste and no longer welcome in their new order. Whence the triumphant “Oh planet come revolve around the swine!”, marking my decision to finish the fucking thing.

To wit:


(this guy may have invented the form)

Aping the Crap of Swine Divine, Desquamations for Pat

Whenever I must stop to take a crap
to signify my canon of divine
beliefs, I swipe and wipe before the swine
and bow deliberately before the apes.
If for no other reason than for Pat,
whose can or cant or canons desquamate

the same way apes’ and monkeys’ desquamate.
But see, the chimps when they must take a crap
would like, but cannot place their faith in Pat,
a man of whom it said there’s less divine
except on filthy planets mad with apes
and tepid, turgid, febrile troughs of swine.

Oh planet come revolve around the swine!
It’s not too late to stop and desquamate!
(Or defecate a season for the apes.)
Oh planet come devolve and take a crap
on those mad preeners pruning thoughts divine:
create a world that’s somewhat safe for Pat,

or simulacrum of safety for Pat–
so dangerously cast with priests of swine
so feverishly drunk with pigs divine
inordinately steeped with desquamat-
ing beasts and fowl whose foul beaks eat the crap
of all the low and lowliest of apes.

Or can a planet stop, remove the apes,
in hopes the swine will bow before their Pat,
and still survive without the monkeys crap?
Or will the tinny whining of the swine
bring down with squall a pall or desquamate
a fate more evil even than the most divine?

Considerations of the said divine
remove the burden from the foresaid apes;
they drip and dry and drop–they desquamate–
and slip and slide off umbrage-covered Pat
(who knows salvation breeds along with swine
who slaver in the troughs of monkey crap).

Oh help my friend, help Pat to take a crap.
To desquamate itself may be divine,
but one must dine with swine, not only apes

{file this under studies in artistic motivation}