“Sylvie’s Wings—A Sestina”
In the coffee shop with Sylvie, there’s a buzz of conversation and softened light;
outside, the dense gray sky hangs over a winding Halloween parade
of umbrellas—pink, chartreuse, and lemon, all covered in rolling drops of rain.
I smile at the woman in a witch’s cape and the tall, pointed hat.
She’s skipping through the puddles while holding a striped umbrella aloft
over a flock of chattering fairies in drooping tulle and dripping wings.
On another Halloween, Sylvie once took her needle and made her own pair of wings
from a yard of silver-green fabric that glimmered in the autumn light.
She’s like those faux-wings, I think now—folding and unfolding, never quite aloft.
What would it cost her to try on a smile and join the holiday parade?
“Sometimes it’s too much,” she says, although she’s always happy to audition a new hat,
and I’ve seen her be both match and flame, a single lily, and then the rain.
Of course I’m too polite to say her cautiousness can be as tiresome as rain,
or maybe I sense that it’s tedium itself that ultimately inspires her to beat her wings
against the comfort of her favorite cardigan, the safety of her lucky hat.
I understand that silence punctuates a score, that a fading sky still harbors light,
and I know that every day can’t have a marching band and waving flags on parade,
that just now Sylvie wants to toe-ball-heel the ground, to resist the pull from aloft.
Inside, we sit at our table, heads together, a coffee-scented cloud hovering aloft.
Laughing, I tap my foot beneath the table in a little pattern like the rain.
So warm in here, so wet out there, and yet I want to run to the parade,
to wear a dress shaped like an apple, to sew myself a pair of silver wings,
to shake raindrops from my hair, to laugh in the absence of light,
to be the clown in a ruffled collar, the grinning pirate in the purple hat.
When I was little, every sock had a mate, every scarf a matching hat,
while Sylvie’s house was a jumble—a spoon under the rug and pillows aloft.
Her mother called up friends, stirred a ruby punch and strung up little lights,
and when the guests all crowded in, like bus riders escaping the relentless rain,
she threaded through them, offering tastes of peppered wings
and beckoning everyone to join in a cha-cha-cha, a rhumba, a rhythmic parade.
One night they all danced out the door, with Sylvie’s mother leading the parade
and Sylvie trailing, her tangled hair hanging beneath a flowered hat.
They were in the street when they began to rise, as if they’d sprouted wings.
Floating toward pines, through velvet dark, a whiff of breeze pushing them aloft,
they all hovered high above the clouds that smelled of fresh laundry and of rain
and sighed because they couldn’t quite reach the moon’s pearled light.
Sometimes just before a storm, Sylvie says she’s seen a glimmering, a light,
so she runs outside, without sweater or hat, her hair and skin absorbing the rain,
and in the sky she sees—what? a parade of stars? extended wings? No, it’s me aloft.
Linda Ferguson‘s work has been published in Mount Hope, Santa Fe Literary Review, Cloudbank and other journals. She’s won awards for her poetry as well as an award for lyrical nonfiction from Perceptions Magazine of the Arts. She’s also received a Pushcart nomination for fiction from Gold Man Review. Her poetry chapbook, Baila Conmigo, was published by Dancing Girl Press. She teaches creative writing for adults and children.
Sam Slaughter is a spirits writer living in the New York City area. He received his BA from Elon University and his MA from Stetson University. He writes for The Manual and his fiction and nonfiction have appeared in a variety of places, including Midwestern Gothic, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and Heavy Feather Review. He was awarded the 2014 Best of There Will Be Words and his debut chapbook When You Cross That Line was published in May 2015. His debut short story collection God in Neon was published in 2016 published by Lucky Bastard Press. He loves playing with puppies and a good glass of bourbon.