top of page
  • By Breana Harris

Sestina for my Father


My father could make a concentration camp

into a game, but the game would be his own

calamitous mood swings. Dining room table

pontifications, tantrums, and smashing things,

then saying he wanted to live on a boat

on the open sea. Unshaven, finally free.


My mother brought his wine glass–her labor free–

He told me of an island where sailors camp

on white sand beaches filled with glass from a boat

that carried slaves to lands that were not their own.

He felt captive too, among domestic things,

a prisoner sitting at this wooden table.


I sat at the other head of the table,

a firstborn daughter whose loyalty came free–

We knew each other’s dreams, our water sign things–

He hated sports and did not shoot guns or camp,

No masculine lack dictated what to own

except his aching desire to have that boat.


He’d only invite me to live on the boat,

which he’d tell my two sisters at the table,

I thrilled each time, so distracted by my own

dark dreams to smash my lasagna and be free,

to escape with him to tropic lands and camp

under the white stars. We’d stop raging at things


that we could not control. And we’d find the things

that made us more alive aboard our boat–

more alive than other people, who still camp

in backyards, play-act like families at a table,

the cowards like my mother, never set free,

never yellow roman candles on their own.


More often than not, he’d leave me on my own,

throw a steak knife at my head and get his things,

leave my mother wishing he’d go get that boat.

We’d gather up the dinner plates, finally free,

She’d side-eye me across the empty table.


He’d head off to his workshop, smoke weed and camp

on his own, he would never survive that boat.

He spread my writing things across the table–

a camp of dark dreams where I could set us free.



Breana Harris is an adolescent mental health worker from Los Angeles with a graduate degree in Screenwriting. She is working on a second one in Creative Writing and has dabbled in all forms of prose, but rarely poetry before now. Her work has appeared in Fractured Literary and Wrongdoing Magazine. She is a Pisces sun, Cancer moon, and Leo rising. 

3 comments

3 commenti


stewart.burke
05 mag

I am a slow learner, yet one who enjoys drilling down small to the etymology of things; which is why "a firstborn daughter whose loyalty came free" -- evoked for me the rhyme "royalty" -- which made perfect sense. I had never in my life seen the relationship between the two. Such unconscious intellectual leaps are what poetry is all about. Feeble minds work best when otherwise at rest. I enjoyed the poem and look forward to more.

Mi piace
David Gosselin
David Gosselin
11 mag
Risposta a

Hi Stewart,


Just a note that The Chained Muse has now moved over to Substack. I'd encourage you to keep following us there and also paste your comment there, where Brenna is most likely to see it. https://thechainedmuse.substack.com/p/sestina-for-my-father

Mi piace

jm6783685
jm6783685
06 apr

On a second reading I see she has taken certain liberties with the form, especially towards the end. I'm not sure whether I approve. The idea of a table having two heads also seems strange to me. Isn't this carrying democracy a bit too far?

Mi piace
bottom of page