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Kolya's Sestina

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On waking, she sometimes curses her flesh.
The burn of dawn, the crackling of her limbs,
It’s almost more than Kolya can bear.
Almost. Her knees, her knuckles are red
From hard use, and from age. The growth
Of old adhesions tightens across her scars.


She rubs warm oil into her shoulder’s scar,
Pulls on the robe. “Comfort the fragile flesh
And bones of your animal body; it grows
In harmony with great Tree’s sheltering limbs.”
Kuakgannir words are unwritten and unread,
But memory’s rote line’s easy enough to bear.

Her first recruits called her Phelan’s Bear,
For her tenacity - the same that earned her scar,
When battle had turned the mud dark red
And she’d paid for her troops’ retreat with her flesh.
The same stubbornness that cost her a limb
Now rooted her in Duke’s East, where she grew

To councillor, advisor, watching the town grow
And thrive. At noon, pacing like a caged bear,
She listens to disputes under the oak’s limbs:
Townsfolks’ arguments, old grievances, old scars,
Affairs, petty dramas over ‘sins of the flesh’ -
Until her questions turn the guilty faces red.

Afternoon’s for orchard work, apples full and red.
Musing as she walks the rows, choosing which will grow,
Or be pruned back in search of sweeter flesh.
Gauging how much fruit this tree will bear,
Kneel to inspect grafts at the rootstock scar.
Above her, the harvest pulls at strong limbs.

She rests her weight against a trunk, her hand along a limb
To watch the western sky turn shades of red.
She feels at peace, with all her service scars
Not forgotten, but eased within her soul’s growth.
This lightness is hers; this hope is hers to bear
Though age and time may weigh upon her flesh.

Her trees bear fruit; the apples gold and red
Limbs full of treasure; she plucks, bites into crisp flesh,
Its sweetness grows and warms her aging scars.