Quinta Del Sordo

Phil Montenegro

Almostina To Goya*

Just then he took off his ears
and set them in the birdcage.
Routine had brought him to draw the curtains,
to enter silence the way water inhabits a freeze,
listening to the voices of his bones
shifting like garden tools in the uneven room.

His eyes sharpened without his raw ears
sometimes like nails in the birdcage,
sometimes like the owl’s unrepentant freeze.
The neighbors talked about him in the laundry room
with the stories they’d assumed from behind the curtains,
troubled that all he ate were shadows and chicken bones.

When he started to paint, the walls made him freeze.
His brushes swung defensively in the uneven room
and all he was given to settle his bones;
an insouciant wink like that of a cat between the birdcage.
The brush had to find one of the wall’s many ears
while the wind came whistling through the curtains.

And just before the wind parsed the curtains,
before the walls rattled their ears,
before the cat tuned its glare through the birdcage,
he, an old man, tightened up his bones,
blew out the candles in the uneven room
and imagined his hands rolling over an ancient frieze.

His hands understood, the way a field understands its hidden bones
something already there in the walls looking past the curtains.
Each room a stanza, each stanza a room.
Only a silence such as this that exalts and frees
could have allowed him to paint beyond his burred cage
and so, he began his assault on the barren plaster year after year.

Until all at once he lay down his brushes and made room,
a tired old man standing on the last hinge of his bones,
shaken by what had been wild and fierce, but taught to freeze
and still never froze, even after he’d tucked back the curtains
and disassembled the wicker of the birdcage,
waiting for the slow approach of wheat and its spike of ears.

By the end the walls were stark as bones
again and the old man left alone in his room.

*The almostina does not follow the same rigors of the traditional sestina. Six end words are repeated, though not in the common lexical pattern, but instead placed where and when the author chooses. In addition, the envoi is shorter and does not contain all six end words from the preceding stanzas. In truth, the author messed up and invented a form to hide his mistake.