From the Vaults: Synaesthesia Sestina

I took my first poetry class when I was 19. One of our assignments was to write a sestina, which, if you’re not familiar with, is a poem with six stanzas and a mini end-stanza called an envoi that have repeating endwords in a certain pattern. It’s a puzzle! Of words!

Anyway, I spent a lot of time on this one and loved it. I’ve been really fascinated by synaesthesia since I was 15 and first read The Stars my Destination by Alfred Bester. I’ve written three sestinas (the other two are about eating disorders and a science fiction one about a prisoner on the moon…only slightly dissimilar topics), but this one might still be my favourite. I entered it into my university’s poetry contest and won second place and $100. Until my book deal this year, it was the only money I’d made from my writing.

I was looking at my Facebook from my author page to see how visible it looks to strangers (answer: more visible than I thought, SHOCK AND SURPRISE, Facebook and your sneakiness), and saw the post I made about it. I thought, since rather few people have that volume of Occam’s Razor, the university magazine it was published in, that I would put it up here.

I feel a bit nervous doing so. Poetry is subjective, and it was my first sestina. But I’m still very fond of it (read: please be nice). I also cheated and varied my end words. As long as it related to the sense, I could use it–e.g. sight/see, hear/sound, touch/feel. So here it is–the first bit of writing that was published and gave me hope that I’d have more published one day.

Synaesthesia Sestina

Laura Lam

I stand looking at the sea.
The feral roar of the surf is all I hear.
The sting of the bitter salt is the taste
of solitude. I reach out and touch
the breeze, its smell
bringing the subtle scent of roses.

Senses fracture. From the shards first rise
The five shades of sight.
Each color has a distinct scent;
red is apple blossoms. I turn and hear
orange explode across the horizon. I touch
fuzzy velvet violet and flavor

the five shadows of taste.
Light marches across the rows
of my taste buds. The touch
of flavors lets me see
into myself. I love the sound
of burnt sugar, like broken promises. I love the smell

of rain. Life is the scent
of chimney smoke. Its sweet and bitter taste
is acrid on the tongue. Here,
no one can smell the new rose
of the promises I make to myself by the sea.
I miss your touch,

I miss how it made me feel,
and how you smelled
always of coffee and dawn. Yet I saw
the texture of your fear. I could taste
it in the back of my throat, a burnt rose,
the lightning in your eyes all I could hear.

Now I no longer hear
any one. Silence touches
my world with soft fingers. I watch the sun rise
in a fury of music, sight, and smell,
the icy smoothness of serenity a taste
on the air. By the sea,

I can hear the sights and see the sounds,
I can feel the taste and taste the touch,
and I can sense the scent of honey in the shadow of the rose.


2 thoughts on “From the Vaults: Synaesthesia Sestina

  1. Oh, I love this. Beautiful imagery and rhythm. These lines in particular gave me chills:

    I miss how it made me feel,
    and how you smelled
    always of coffee and dawn. Yet I saw
    the texture of your fear.

  2. I love the concept of synaesthesia in general. It gives the opportunity to really adorn your language outside the normal. The poem itself is a whole new animal for me. I have been woefully unequipped to read and appreciate poetry, but I have to say that I love the language that you use.

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