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Sestina: Bodies of Water

by E. Andrew Lee

The prospects for today are looking suspect.
Clouds now crowding the Tennessee Valley, mute and contiguous
As rows of gray rocks lined by children. They seem to point the way
To the water’s edge at Lake Chilhowee. Cherokee understood
The secrets of the South, a pantomime that’s precious
To behold, even in a man like me, still pitiful and proud.

The skinny bleached blonde seems particularly proud
In a floral print bikini, like youth, short and suspect.
With every subtle, swinging step, her pretense is precious,
Self-assurance and self-loathing, frequently contiguous
Like the darkly guilty roots among the blonde—it’s understood
To coexist in flux, coagulating somewhere on the way.

A limping octogenarian makes his solitary way,
Stooped and palsied, but inordinately proud,
His ice-blue eyes at work, a face that understood
All the ecstasy and tragedy which no one would suspect.
The etchings on his forehead are contiguous,
Like coal to diamond, something crude becoming precious.

A bohemian housewife, angular and precious
For her fried fruit pies which she sells along the way,
She’s paused to ponder futility. The ripples seem contiguous,
Rolling toward her flimsy vinyl chair. She’s proud
Of her children and her calluses; her fidelity is suspect,
The curse of a woman too obscenely understood.

A lifeguard nods insidiously as though he understood
His minute in the sun is Icarean and precious.
He’s acne-ridden, crewcut, seventeen—sole suspect
Perched atop a blistered, fading throne—out of the way
Yet conspicuous. The girls think he’s ridiculously proud.
He glances their direction, wishing them contiguous.

Desire and dread are ultimately contiguous:
A lesson often learned, but seldom understood.
Like a wounded, victorious soldier, dying and proud,
Glimpsing his regrets and finding them precious,
I studied these strangers who had crossed my way.
It was time to leave them, saturnine and suspect.

Our paths weren’t contiguous, merely precious.
We understood, in an enigmatic way.
Still proud and always will be, I suspect.

E. Andrew Lee is an alumnus of Wake Forest University and the University of Tennessee. He has enjoyed a long career as professor of English at Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee. His favorite authors include fellow Southerners William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams and Flannery O’Connor. He serves as newsletter editor for the Eugene O’Neill Society and also publishes a monthly personal finance column called “The Money Story.”

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