Grief Sestina
by Sunni Brown Wilkinson

Runner-Up, Ruth Stone Poetry Prize

I met a woman who’d been struck by lightning.

She held herself like a firefly

when she told me. That’s something

I thought. She was now her own gold.

I was pregnant then, fourth boy, more full moon

than ever. But all that beautiful milk

went sour when he died, the stuttering milk

that dripped from me lightening

each day and by the time the moon

waned so had I. What came out next was fire

and like a wild man digging for gold

you searched for me nights I left something

cold out for dinner, turned some thin

line into a stone wall. Love, drink this milk

of our grief with me, tell me the days are gold,

and though I push you away, let the lightning

of you find the dry tree of me, and after, fireflies

rise from our bed, strike dumb the brutish moon.

Forget the hospital machine blank as the moon

behind clouds the night we turned into something

we couldn’t name. Let’s reclaim the days of first fire

when in our house of futons and cheap milk,

we rang each other like bells, like strands of lightning.

Love, how the river of you washed me. Oh, the gold 

in your beard then and the gold 

in the finches winging endlessly against the moons

of our windows. I come humbly in the lightning

of my grief now. I eat the cold crumbs of something

we made together and lost, the chipped glass of milk

rattling in my hands burns me like the longest fire.

This simple meal of our life more fire

than water in our fractured bodies. Love, stuff gold

into the hands of strangers, spill the milk

of your laughter, anchor the moon

in your quiet hands and give me something

to believe in again. Even a dogged, tenuous light.

And say it, Love, we’ve been struck by lightning,

that milky gold something

that’s changed us, made us strange. The moon on fire.

Sunni Brown Wilkinson’s poetry is forthcoming in Western Humanities Review, Coal Hill Review, New Ohio Review, and Ruminate. She is the author of The Marriage of the Moon and the Field (Black Lawrence Press, 2019) and The Ache & The Wing (winner of Sundress Publications’ 2020 Chapbook Prize). Her work has been awarded New Ohio Review’s NORward Poetry Prize, the Joy Harjo Poetry Prize, and the Sherwin W. Howard Award. She teaches at Weber State University and lives in northern Utah with her husband and three sons.