Issue Eight:
Sestina

By Imogen Russell Williams

For my father

An owl was hooting in the tree-filled night.

By the old embers, which I could not stir

To yellow flame, I made my own small glow

Smoking a cigarette, near my father’s chair.

(He would not have approved.)  The inner light

Of evening in the house makes cobwebs grey.

At other hours, though, they are not grey.

As grey as smoke, owl-feathers, in the night,

By day they slowly spin, acquiring light

And weaving incandescence; as they stir,

Say, just above my father’s reading chair,

They feed on dust-motes, effloresce and glow.

Between field-grasses’ rankness, they can glow

Another way.  When dawn is clouded grey

With piled soft-sculpture shapes, a ship, a chair,

A cradle for the child who kills the night,

The baby sun emerges with a stir,

Distributing the beaded webs its light.

The white refulgence, though, the day’s strong light

That they refine and splinter in their glow,

As elemental dust-motes spin and stir,

As grey flames white, the other face of grey,

As day is just the other face of night,

Is that which shines above my father’s chair.

Death cannot be life’s other face.  The chair

In which he sat to read, turned to the light

Of the wide window, blue-paned with the night

But throwing back the old red fire’s glow,

Speaks of him in its impress.  Green, not grey,

The pain of losing him.  He would not stir

Unless to rip up sports news, or to stir

The sleeping dog’s contentment by his chair

As the bright sun haloed to white his grey

Hair, imbuing it with filamental light

So that his unethereal head would glow

As if with benediction.  Now, good night

Light-footed dog, shrill-hooting owl. Good night

My father’s chair, rich in the fading glow.

The embers stir and settle, dull to grey.


About the Contributor

Imogen Russell Williams is a former theatre director, who now works as a children’s book critic, writing for the Guardian, the Metro and the TLS, and as a freelance editor.


Losslit canon

Sad Book - Michael Rose, illustrated by Quentin Blake

This beautiful, heart-rending book is an account of a father's grief for a child; written simply enough for young readers to decipher, it's profound, stark and humane enough to move anyone to tears. Blake's sensitive illustrations, rich in the action and emotion of the everyday, perfectly evoke the ubiquitous, metamorphic sorrow of Rosen's poetic text ("Where is sad? Sad is everywhere. It comes along and finds you.")

See all entries in the Losslit canon


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