Sestina for Marzanna
By Cassandra Rose Clarke
In December comes the first brush of your winter kiss—
what my Catholic grandmother called a blue norther: After the storm
clouds vanish, the sky turns the cerulean of Arctic ice,
and in the aftermath of that held breath blow winds borrowed from your forest.
Long ago you announced your arrival with a rattle at my bathroom window.
Now, you brush your fingers against the black wind chimes and hum
a melody in a minor key. I am always ready for you. The hum
of insects lasts into November these days, and I find the swollen kiss
of a mosquito on the underside of my arm as I sit beside the window
watching the clouds darken. You sing in the crashing language of the storm,
the wild words of wind and violence: a scream through a forest,
a whispered threat in the darkness, an unwelcome touch as cold as ice—
and a strength, your strength, that fills me with the power of that ice.
Death is not a threat after all, only a repeated note in the world’s hum.
Three years ago fire swept across the state, devouring a pine forest.
In the aftermath the bones of trees crawled toward the sky for one last kiss
of sunlight. Death arrived and death retreated, like floodwaters after a storm.
Now you flash corpse gray and ivy green outside my car’s window
every time I drive the highway bisecting that graveyard. A window
that shows me what it means to die: honeysuckle overwhelming the ice
of death. Because even in the fire of summer I find you: in a storm
of kudzu strangling the landscape, squeezing out the sweet hum
of oak trees until they are consumed and silent, or in the poisoned kiss
of a red and yellow snake, coiling in the choking underbrush of a forest.
Or in the relentless raging heat of the sun, turning the world to a forest
of glass. Everything snaps at the touch. I press my hand to the window
and feel a heat that freezes; like a cold that burns, that pain is a kiss
from you. In this upside-down world, relief comes from the ice
I pull from a glass of water and press to my fevered skin. Your death hum
is silence and stillness, the sort that proceeds an August storm
that can wipe away an entire city, the wind blowing up a leaf storm
of shredded insulation and broken sheetrock, white as a forest
in the snow. A reminder of your power even in this heat, even in this hum
of grasshoppers, this screech of cicadas. I sit beside the window
and I wait. The air conditioner turns on, a faint promise of the ice
of your return. The manufactured cold whispers of your kiss.
Someday soon the first storm will return, slamming hard against my window.
The hum of the air conditioner will fall silent, replaced by the cracking of ice
as my tropical backyard forest wilts in supplication to your first and final kiss.
Cassandra Rose Clarke grew up in south Texas and currently lives in a suburb of Houston, where she writes and works for a local literary arts nonprofit. She holds an M.A. in creative writing from The University of Texas at Austin, and in 2010 she attended the Clarion West Writer’s Workshop in Seattle. Her work has been nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award, the Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice Award, and YALSA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults. Her latest novel is Star’s End, out now from Saga Press.