Renée Schell

Winter Sestina

in memory of Janice Hill, 1924-1999

She reflected one night, white-haired and still
with her thoughts in the old farmhouse,
the dishes wiped, put away for that night in winter,
that the cold was not as bracing today. Vermont
would open itself again soon, like a hand. The duct-taped
storm windows could come off. She would need a hired man.

A silhouette against twilit sky, a man
headed up the road toward St. Anthony's, still
while pausing for breath. The roll of duct tape
whispered to her of tomorrow's work. The farmhouse
in constant need of repair, March in Vermont
being what it was. Not many weeks left of winter.

Mudseason with its warm spells would appear. But winter
still held its charm. She thought again of the man
on the road. A man around the house in Vermont
was a good thing. His last years, Russell had still
milked the cows. She'd kept the farmhouse
clean, put up tomatoes, bought firewood and duct tape.

Russell had kept a roll of duct tape
in his overalls pocket for quick fixes in winter,
even the cracks in the glass of the farmhouse
windows. An eyesore, to be sure. A hired man
could replace it.—But then—the crash of glass. Whole still
one moment, then shattered. The door broken in, the Vermont

tea towel torn from its thumbtacks, Vermont
falling to the floor. He grabbed the duct tape.
It was his now. No! she shouted, still
unaware of how deeply winter's
chill could push its way into the kitchen. The man
over her as if she were prey in the farmhouse.

Later, with the deputy, if someone walked the farmhouse
road, she thought, past the stand of maples—her Vermont—
if her eyes caught sight again of a lone man,
she would hide in the hay barn, not let the duct tape
be stretched across her mouth, not be silenced by his winter,
left in her housecoat and slippers, bloodied and still.

She would pray to forget the duct tape and the man,
pray to sleep with eyes closed in the farmhouse in Vermont,
to let winter in again, its other embrace white and tender still.

Melancholia is a Girl's Name

for K.S.

In her heart she knows he will recover.
Though in her lungs, air's heavy as bones or war.
He's bound to take another lover.

At first, all they needed was each other.
Now she paints alone—a still life, a door.
In her heart she fears she won't recover.

When was it things began to smother?
Her father's death? The accident a friend endured?
It doesn't matter that he loves her.

When did heaviness begin to hover?
And the pull of solitude begin to lure?
In her heart she knows she's past "recover."

She drinks the wine, swallowing rough and rougher
the small pills white as a cure.
She's sure he'll take another lover.

She takes the bottle, pours herself another.
Plastic bag 'round her face, he'll find her on the floor.
In her heart she knows he will recover.
He's sure to find another lover.


Renée Schell's poetry has appeared in Catamaran Literary Reader, CÆsura, On the Dark Path: An Anthology of Fairy Tale Poetry, Perfume River Poetry Review, and other journals. Her work also appears online at string poet.com, literarymama.com, in Cha: An Asian Literary Journal and MonkeyBicycle. Renée holds a Magister degree from the University of Bonn and a Ph.D. in German Studies from Stanford University. She plays classical piano and co-edits poetry for the Willow Glen Poetry Project and for Red Wheelbarrow. Her poem "Beyond Vienna" won Third Prize in the String Poet Contest 2014.


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