Estrangement: A Sestina

Two-and-a-half scoops of flour, salt,
the sugared bloom of yeast. I measure
out the sadness of mother’s milk,
the quiet spores simmering alive—
until the dough rises as though intention
were simple as the thought of bread.

As a child, you loved sugared bread.
First I spread toast with butter: unsalted,
as ideal backdrop; always intending
to feed more than the mouth—measures
any parent would take to grow and keep alive
the humans put in their care. Milk-faced

and squalling, immediately rooting for milk,
you came into this world. Bread
of my skin, pulled and kneaded, kept you alive
and sated. But we grew hungrier, salting
each year’s wounds to try or curb its measure—
How could we know what we intended

would fail test after test? What one intends
runs counter to another’s growing desire. Milk
the days before you count them missing, measure
being the unsmiling steward who locks up the bread
instead of handing it out, until it hardens to rock salt.
So the years have turned, and still we are alive.

I know I still keep many things alive.
Burnt toast, burnt sugar: not what I intended,
nor the gaping spaces between, salted
with the hard absence of years. I too want the milk
of contentment, the daily grace of love like bread
though I haven’t figured out why some measures

didn’t seem enough. The great immeasurables
are those that swell our hearts, that keep us alive
despite the absences: night falls over day, bread
crumbles to dust in its box. Isn’t love a form of intention,
and any kind of exchange of language the sign of milk
not completely curdled, not all diminished into salt?

I’ll eat old bread, dry bread, remembering it was intended
for sustenance in immeasurable wilderness. And I won’t milk
the heart I’ve kept alive in its stall, but sit with it in salt and ashes.

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