Sex Shop Sestina

I chose to write this poem in an unusual and complex French form called a sestina. You may notice that throughout the poem there are six words that occur at the end of each of the first six stanzas. And as if that isn’t difficult enough, these six words must be used in a precisely different sequence in each stanza. And to top it off, all six words have to occur in the last three-line stanza, referred to as the envoy.

So why would any poet choose to write in such a difficult form? I remember being inspired by the sestina “A Miracle for Breakfast” written by Elizabeth Bishop, one of my favorite poets. Using this form, she took an ordinary event and created a magical effect. So I took her poem as a guide, noting the placement of each of her six words, and wrote this loving remembrance of the time my dad showed me a 42nd Street that no longer exists.

42nd Street in 60s

Sex Shop Sestina

By Gene Twaronite

He brought me to the New York flower show
at the Coliseum, but another kind of flowering
awaited me in the 42nd street windows
filled with playful outré objects
to entertain every colossal desire
of an endless erotic childhood.

My dad never talked of that childhood
or what to expect. All he could do was show
me a glimpse of that world of desire
awaiting at lust’s first flowering
through the whispering objects
in the windows.

Through those stained-glass windows
I could see only dimly the childhood
I was about to enter. I can still picture one of the objects,
a hot water bottle shaped like a naked woman, a peep show
of sudden flowering
awareness of it as an instrument of desire.

I began to see these blazes of desire
everywhere, popping up like multi-colored windows
of files and programs flowering
on the backlit screen of my new childhood.
Inside was the real show
I conjured up from these objects.

That my dad, ever faithful husband, could view these objects
with the same eyes of desire
as mine was the precious magic show
he would leave me: how to look through windows
and cherish each tingle of a childhood
perpetually flowering.

For the flowering
continues long after the objects
of our human love are consummated, and a second childhood
begins. And now I see the shocking lewd books of desire
I once found hidden under his mattress as windows
into the life of the father he could not show.

Spring was in full flowering at the Coliseum, but the bloom of desire
I saw on my dad’s face as he gazed upon the objects in the windows
is the childhood memory I carry: our secret sex show.

First published in Panoply, A Literary Zine

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