In keeping with the sestina series: I wrote this poem in the winter of 2009, though it has experienced some tweaking since. It is about the “Hemingway Room” at Oak Park and River Forest High School, in Oak Park, IL. Hemingway was born in Oak Park and attended OPRF. I was able to take an English class in the very same room that he once did.
Sestina Inspired by the Hemingway Room
Close to the western summit there is the dried and frozen carcass of a leopard. No one has explained what the leopard was seeing at that altitude.
from “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”
We call it the Hemingway Room,
where you once wrote Trapeze pieces
in your desk by the old fireplace and dusty chalkboard.
You began honing your skills as a newspaper writer,
and now your framed face watches
as we discuss “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” in packs
of three or four. Strewn backpacks
camp out at our feet, giving the room
its lived in feel. Ms. Kinnan watches
through her round spectacles as we attempt to piece
together the chalky-white themes on the board.
“Wide lawns and narrow minds,” you wrote.
Perhaps the town and you were differently right.
Maybe you needed to stray from the pack
to escape the conservative life and the boredom
that captured you in your four cornered bedroom.
Away from it all you found peace,
a new found sense of serenity in watching
the geese fly. But the world is not a broken watch.
Looking down at my desk I see E.H. written
into the wood like camouflage, a leftover piece
of your youth, a little something that survived the quick impact
of the bullet that left your shotgun in 1961. Back in the room
our digressive voices and casual, callow boredom
subside. A quote from your story, scrawled across the board,
invokes us to sit in silence, bewildered, watching.
“Rot and poetry. Rotten poetry.” As we ruminate,
I consider the black ball-point in my hand and I want to write.
The land of the leopard that strayed from the pack
comes to mind and my fingers swiftly scribble words onto a piece
of paper… White puffs of cotton parting the sky into pieces
of pink haze, the tips of giant lobelias brushing the border
of a long horizon, the cadence of a trickling brook, and a pack
of barbets fiendishly fending fruit… The watch
ticks, again and again, and the whimsical writing
stops. I glance up at you as I leave the room
and a piece of me feels different, less casual, ready to undertake.
My poems may be packed with sentimentality, may be rotten.
But my boarded-up mind is no longer bored. I will write and rewrite.