Letters from a Doll (Sestina)

A girl had lost her doll; to help her through,
Kafka wrote letters—from the doll—that told
where she had been, what she had learned, and what
learning, if not what lessons, lie in loss.
Later the girl found one more in a crack:
Love will come back, but in a different form.

Loss let us first define as ruptured form.
Everything comes from it; it bellows through
the vaults of dark and stars, shaking a crack
in light itself, untelling what was told
and starting a new story: I am loss;
in me there is no who, where, why, or what.

I did not know my winding words were what
wore out your own, or that I broke a form;
I thought I’d never be a source of loss.
But loss lies in all things, soaking them through,
down to the dearest, down to what we told
ourselves was firm, down to the plastered crack.

Late in the attic, looking through the crack
in the pine wall, I think I make out what
could be your afterlight. A singer told
me once that certain songs attain their form
from being listened to, and even through
full stoppage can be heard. So with your loss,

so with the fading of the light, the loss
of stuff and all its traps, the faithful crack
in hoped-for shapes, the senses dimming through
lowest degrees, down into who knows what,
the hints of weather marks and final form,
hushing to null, in what the pinewood told.

Yes, the beloved story comes untold
through being heard; nothing without its loss,
it casts me out of what I thought was form.
I rotate this black box, trying to crack
its terse domain, to learn, if lucky, what
keeps it from falling open, being through.

Instead I hear a form of letter. Told
through a new face, cast in new sound, the loss
becomes a pause, a crack, a question, what?

I wrote this sestina today. It was inspired partly by two separate pieces I read recently about Kafka and the doll, partly by Loren Eiseley’s poem “Say that the Gift was Given” (thanks to Thomas for introducing it to me yesterday), and partly by who knows what.

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3 Comments

  1. This is magnificent. Masterful.

    Reply
  1. Ahead and Behind | Take Away the Takeaway

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  • “To know that you can do better next time, unrecognizably better, and that there is no next time, and that it is a blessing there is not, there is a thought to be going on with.”

    —Samuel Beckett, Malone Dies

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

     

    Diana Senechal is the author of Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture and the 2011 winner of the Hiett Prize in the Humanities, awarded by the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. Her second book, Mind over Memes: Passive Listening, Toxic Talk, and Other Modern Language Follies, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in October 2018. In February 2022, Deep Vellum will publish her translation of Gyula Jenei's 2018 poetry collection Mindig Más.

    Since November 2017, she has been teaching English, American civilization, and British civilization at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium in Szolnok, Hungary. From 2011 to 2016, she helped shape and teach the philosophy program at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering in New York City. In 2014, she and her students founded the philosophy journal CONTRARIWISE, which now has international participation and readership. In 2020, at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium, she and her students released the first issue of the online literary journal Folyosó.

  • INTERVIEWS AND TALKS

    On April 26, 2016, Diana Senechal delivered her talk "Take Away the Takeaway (Including This One)" at TEDx Upper West Side.
     

    Here is a video from the Dallas Institute's 2015 Education Forum.  Also see the video "Hiett Prize Winners Discuss the Future of the Humanities." 

    On April 19–21, 2014, Diana Senechal took part in a discussion of solitude on BBC World Service's programme The Forum.  

    On February 22, 2013, Diana Senechal was interviewed by Leah Wescott, editor-in-chief of The Cronk of Higher Education. Here is the podcast.

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    On this blog, Take Away the Takeaway, I discuss literature, music, education, and other things. Some of the pieces are satirical and assigned (for clarity) to the satire category.

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