I wrote my second sestina, “The Obsession,” in 1979, but I didn’t publish it until 1982 when
it appeared in a “little magazine” called New Collage. It was wildly experimental. Rather than dis-
guise the teleutons, I took advantage of the obsessive quality of the sestina's repetitions: The first
line of "The Obsession" contains all six of the end-words, and the same basic line is repeated incre-
mentally as the first line of succeeding stanzas. Each time the line is repeated the syntax is trans-
posed by hypallage; nonetheless, the line always makes sense. Because all six end-words do appear
in this line, a particular problem arises at the envoy, for it cannot be of three lines. Instead, the re-
frain line reappears a seventh time as a one-line envoy rather than as the normal triplet, but with
the sense of the original first line reversed.
Although “The Obsession” soon began to be reprinted elsewhere and appeared in The New Book of Forms (1986), I did not collect it in one of my books of poetry because it was, like the envoy-less sestina “The Dead Letter Office,” part of a series of poems titled “Letters to the Dead” which explored the permu-tations of the rhymed sestet stanza. That series didn’t appear in a book until 2010 in “Wesli Court’s” The Gathering of the Elders. In 2014:
Last night I dreamed my father died again,
A decade and a year after he dreamed
Of death himself, pitched forward into night.
His world of waking flickered out and died —
An image on a screen. He is the father
Now of fitful dreams that last and last.
I dreamed again my father died at last.
He stood before me in his flesh again.
I greeted him. I said, "How are you, father?"
But he looked frailer than last time I'd dreamed
We were together, older than when he'd died —
I saw upon his face the look of night.
I dreamed my father died again last night.
He stood before a mirror. He looked his last
Into the glass and kissed it. He saw he'd died.
I put my arms about him once again
To help support him as he fell. I dreamed
I held the final heartburst of my father.
I died again last night: I dreamed my father
Kissed himself in glass, kissed me goodnight
In doing so. But what was it I dreamed
In fact? An injury that seems to last
Without abatement, opening again
And yet again in dream? Who was it died
Again last night? I dreamed my father died,
But it was not he — it was not my father,
Only an image flickering again
Upon the screen of dream out of the night.
How long can this cold image of him last?
Whose is it, his or mine? Who dreams he dreamed?
My father died. Again last night I dreamed
I felt his struggling heart still as he died
Beneath my failing hands. And when at last
He weighed me down, then I laid down my father,
Covered him with silence and with night.
I could not bear it should he come again —
I died again last night, my father dreamed.