Oulipost 19 — Sestina: Migration


When I came, I planted a makeshift

garden. Planted and watered. Little rain

fell in this wildfire year. I wanted a perfect

harvest, after crossing three borders

to come here, after all my travel

under the firework stars.


The Big Dipper has six stars.

Tipped in the dark like a makeshift

Plow over a dry field, it travels,

rotates, ladles out the dust like rain.

The constellations and asterisms border

the land where nothing but hope will be perfect


The coyotes made a perfect

pitch. Just a little walk under the stars,

sliding home across the borders.

Now the travelers wait, hiding, in makeshift

huts, under the mesquite and cacti, no rain,

little water, little food, blowing dust. The coyotes’ bullpen waits to travel.


A stash house, they call it.   Travel

delayed, waiting for transport, for the perfect

moment to move on. Waiting for the vans. It never rains

but the dust falls like rain, like falling stars,

like gardeners, like dishwashers, like harvesters, like men running makeshift

bases headed for home. They wait, abandoned, just north of the border.


The Great Bear knows no borders,

but moves in storied pace across the sky. Stars travel

free, like birds, like wildfire, but the men make shift

with the shifting wind, waking to a perfect

clear morning with the stars

fading fast, clouds coming up with the smell of rain —


arrested. Men from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, the rain

forests of the south. Found by the Border

Patrol. Now, the fences open south. Only the invisible stars

sweep through the sky, in unrestricted travel.

The arrest was expected; the patrol was perfect.

Nothing here is makeshift.


I miss the rain and the clouds — I might travel

back across borders, give up the perfect

clear sky — but — to keep the stars — I would trade — make do — make shift.



Associated Press, ‘4 Questions about Missing Malaysian Plane Answered’, The Arizona Republic, 19 April 2014, Online edition <http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/nation/2014/04/19/4-questions-about-missing-malaysian-plane-answered/7902509/&gt; [accessed 19 April 2014]
———, ‘Immigrants Arrested at Makeshift Texas Camp’, The Arizona Republic, 18 April 2014, Online edition <http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/nation/2014/04/18/texas-immigrants-arrested-camp/7878243/&gt; [accessed 19 April 2014]
Dungan, ‘2014 Arizona Campfire Restrictions’ (The Arizona Republic, 18 April 2014), Online edition <http://www.azcentral.com/story/travel/local/hiking/2014/04/15/arizona-campfire-restrictions/7759519/&gt; [accessed 19 April 2014]
Kissinger, Brian, ‘Kissinger: Use Rainwater to Water Plants’, The Arizona Republic, 18 April 2014, Online edition <http://www.azcentral.com/story/life/house-garden/2014/04/18/kissinger-rainwater-water-plants/7891811/&gt; [accessed 19 April 2014]
McLellan, Sarah, ‘Antoine Vermette “Pleased” with His Offensive Output’, The Arizona Republic, 18 April 2014, Online edition <http://www.azcentral.com/story/sports/nhl/coyotes/2014/04/19/antoine-vermette-pleased-offensive-output/7921693/&gt; [accessed 20 April 2014]
Piecoro, Nick, ‘Diamondbacks Stop Skid with 12th-Inning Win over Dodgers’, Arizona Republic, 19 April 2014, Online edition <http://www.azcentral.com/story/sports/mlb/diamondbacks/2014/04/19/diamondbacks-stop-skid-with-12-inning-win-over-dodgers/7902333/&gt; [accessed 19 April 2014]
Thompson, Clay, ‘(Almost) Everything You Want to Know about Big Dipper’, The Arizona Republic, 19 April 2014, Online edition <http://www.azcentral.com/story/claythompson/2014/04/19/arizona-humor-big-dipper/7892713/&gt; [accessed 19 April 2014]
Vanek, Corina, ‘Phoenix Weather: Clear Skies Forecast for Easter’, The Arizona Republic, 18 April 2014, Online edition <http://www.azcentral.com/story/weather/2014/04/18/phoenix-weather-easter-forecast-clear-skies-abrk/7866575/&gt; [accessed 19 April 2014]



This will be one of your most challenging Oulipost prompts! A sestina is a poetic form of six six-line stanzas. The end-words of the lines of each stanza repeat those of the first, but in a differing order that in each successive stanza follows the permutation: 615243. The entire sequence of end words is thus: 123456; 615243; 364125; 532614; 451362; 246531. All words and phrases must be sourced from your newspaper text.

To read sestinas from the other Ouliposters — look for their links in the comments at the bottom of the prompt post on the Found Poetry Review blog.



I started this poem even before my morning coffee.  I collected several articles, and used Word and Excel to generate a list of all the unique words.  I printed the list and studied it, circling and highlighting.  Then I chose the six words that I wanted to use to end my lines, and used the wonderful sestina spreadsheet (courtesy of FPR’s Doug Lumen) to print a template for each line with the final word in the correct position.  I sat down with hard copy and wrote a first draft. Then I typed, printed, edited, revised, added one more story to my word bank (because I needed coyote), then edited and revised some more.  At one point, I started writing lines without checking my word bank for words, and in the next draft I had to check them all and make some changes. I did give myself some freedom with my words, freely changing tenses and number as needed.

I entered everything into the Sestina spreadsheet, pasted the text from that into Word to save it, and did my final edit in my WordPress window.  I gave myself time during the day to cook, do laundry, and water my makeshift container garden, letting the poem rest or swirl in my mind.  I’m glad to be done and pleased with my poem, but I don’t think I will write many more of these.  I’ve read quite a few in the last couple of days, and find them long and unwieldy.

Did you miss the audio file at the top? If you did, go back up, click the little speaker icon, and have a listen.  I decided this poem needed to be read.

#Oulipost #NaPoWriMo2014 #azcentral


3 thoughts on “Oulipost 19 — Sestina: Migration

  1. I keep coming back to this sestina Elizabeth – it’s just gorgeous. Not only did you capture a narrative, you really transformed your text, which is something I wish i had been more successful at. This one is a keeper.

  2. Pingback: Oulipost Exit Interview | A Tree by the Stream

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