Sestina of the Man at Eternity's Gate

By: Esther Cheng

Are these the pangs of birth or the aftershocks of death?
What awaits me beyond this shore?
And even now when legs and feet have failed me
The sand shows trails, like serpents, of this fragility
I bleed: the gravel grinds my skin and flesh
Forget this pain. Give way to howling sea.

The tempests are never mild here; only the sea
Remembers its wild embrace, its lust of death
And holds it close, feeds it human flesh
Thus I lie, corpse as I am, upon this lonely shore,
Though breath remains. It is fear -- fragility: T
his unending storm that keeps me.

Talk of home and heartland irks me.
What heart? What home? There lies only sea
My sea, my fear, my storm, my fragility.
No face awaits the soul but gentle Death;
I see his figure on the distant shore.
He sees me not. But I gladly yield my flesh.

The moonbeam caresses this broken flesh.
Expose me not. No light shall shine on me.
Curse these memories, this life, this shore;
Shall I cast even my heart into this sea?
I’d give and lose this face, this form, to death.
But not this lingering love… fragility.

Yet who would stay to bear my memory? They see fragility
Inside this mind, this heart, this ailing flesh.
This is no labeled road; we walk our ways to death
Without a guide. Forget this fleeting life and me.
For I alone must brave this raging sea,
And scatter the vultures waiting upon this shore.

But what awaits me past this empty shore?
New life? New strength? Or new fragility
Upon the waves, as oil spills at sea?
I bleed. These ghostly birds, they pick at flesh
And soon, the dawn will breathe new sleep to me--
All will be well. Forget this life, this momentary death.

The morning comes to shore. It’s now restored: this flesh
Forgets its fragility before, forgets the moonlit me.
I look beyond the sea. Still, I see aftershocks of this birth, this life, this death.