A Poetry Sporadical of Repeating Forms

Kitchen Sestina

by Joyce Sutphen

At one end of the counter, a radio
gave us the news, between polka-
music, grain prices, the markets. The world
was black and white, just like a Holstein.
One side was electric; the other wood,
and the red clock kept its nervous time.

My mother, children at her feet, filled time
with the chores of the day, while the radio
advertised faraway places she would
never see, then played a jolly polka.
From the window she could see the Holsteins
moving in the cow yard as if the world

was on a carousal—shapes whirled
into a blur, dizzy as the one time
at the County Fair when she took a Holstein
calf and stayed overnight with a radio
filled with news and not one polka,
imagining the ribbon that would

hang from the rafter, blue against pinewood,
the flag of the smallest place in the world.
Afterwards she went home, where the polka
came back in accordion and tuba time.
She married my father who kept a radio
in the barn, and when he milked his Holstein

cows the music made a Holstein
tune that seemed to say that world would
go on this way forever, the radio
always playing a song that whirled
her away if only she had the time
to listen to something other than the polka.

Sixty years later, they watch the polka
dancers on Saturday night. The Holsteins
are gone; the barn’s been quiet a long time.
All the stanchions are stacked with firewood—
something else to give warmth to the world,
and dust gathers on the silent radio.

Polkas are playing in the moonlit wood.
Holsteins in caravans, all over the world—
and time is just a station on the radio.

Joyce Sutphen grew up on a farm in Stearns County, Minnesota, and she teaches literature and creative writing at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. Her latest collection, First Words, is a “memoir in poems,” and was published in 2010; in March, 2012, House of Possibility, a letter press edition of poems, was published by Accordion Press. She is the second Minnesota Poet Laureate, succeeding Robert Bly.


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