Good Daughter Sestina

by Susan Muth


Good daughter outlines family on grandfather clock
careful not to disturb sleeping minds. Oh, how their arms
tuck carefully under heads to frame the sly face
of the clock, alive in their formal living room.
Good daughter traces a finger up and down her own body,
notices how skin stretches taut over time.

Good mother sleeps around the clock and, at the stroke of five, time
dictates how much wine she pours as the clock
sings its hypnotizing melody, sings as a carved wooden body
seduces family into submission. But as the little arm
snaps to five, good daughter runs upstairs to her room,
locks the door to save herself from the wide, laughing clockface.

Good father cannot remember the last time he saw his own face,
maybe during the war, how he prayed in the sand for more time
on this Earth. He prayed to make it back home to his gunroom
so his wife wouldn’t wander in when grandfather clock
struck five on any given night. He prayed for time to disarm
his wife before the clock convinced her to distrust her own body.

Good brother stays far away, hopes to make himself somebody.
But in his most observant state, he never recognizes the face
of his younger self who helped good father lift furniture in his arms
from the gunroom that hot morning in June, when thyme
sprigs grew in the North Carolina backyard. The clock
stood tall in its new spot in the living room.

Years before good father uncovered the clock in his gunroom,
nights sighed in the lull of a sewing machine. Nobody
forced corks out of bottles, nobody waited for a clock
to grant permission. Good mother looked life in the face,
an Army wife, constantly fighting with the hands of time
as she awaited her husband’s return to hold him in her arms.

Good daughter knows now it was never enough to arm
family with the tools they needed to storm the living room.
It was never enough to hide the wine when dinner time
rolled around the house. She only has her body,
her tools, her waking mind she needs to deface
the diseased wood of the family clock.

Good daughter takes her time, reaches her small arm
inside grandfather clock who stands in an aging room,
then pries arms away from a now disgraced face.


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