Sunday supper table (sestina)

Two at the ends, two at the back
one for the cook, one for the help
this was the way of Sunday’s table:
hungry tums anxiously waiting,
family dog glued to the floor
lest any scrap should need saving.

Father would pray for all our saving;
serve himself before handing back,
while Mother paced the dining floor
ever offering us kids some help
till dishes, her end, piled up, waiting –
always an imbalance at our table.

Silence was the rule of the table,
stories and anecdotes were for saving,
politeness called for patient waiting –
chairs tucked in and shoulders back
and no cutting the meat without help,
cold potatoes slyly sloshing on floor.

Youngest feet not reaching the floor
tended to swing beneath the table
kicking knees could not be helped;
from fiendish scowls no saving –
Father’s hand flashed a wicked back,
scolding sermons he kept in waiting.

My tongue would tire of the waiting
no matter how I focused on the floor
and if a sister should glance me back
that would be the end of a quiet table,
giggles nervously emerging from saving
any hope of control beyond our help.

Mother’s good nature was seldom help,
nor Father’s silence as he glared, waiting,
for the situation was far beyond saving,
and his chair angrily scraped the floor
as his storming presence left the table
we happily waved at his regressing back.


All the stories we’ve been saving –
childhood foibles we couldn’t help

Days and people we’ll never get back
hoping that somewhere they’re waiting

That one day we’ll meet, share the floor
minus the hurt, forgiveness at the table.

(My poetry circle tried their hands at a sestina.
This is my attempt. Another tale from dinner
with Dad. Image my own.)


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Permission to write, paint, and imagine are the gifts I gave myself when chronic illness hit - a fair exchange: being for doing. Relevance is an attitude. Humour essential.

46 thoughts on “Sunday supper table (sestina)”

  1. you nailed the format, forgiveness is only half the battle! We never forget but owning it and talking about really do help the healing … and your poetry is a perfect outlet 🙂

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  2. I really liked the poem and the form. It fit so well moving from the memory to the reflection. The spirit and resilience of you and your siblings comes through despite the heavy handed management of your father. Really well done!

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  3. you did a fine job with bringing us into this experience – it makes me sad that well meaning religious people did have that tyrant side or some had some serious and dry sides – not saying your dad did – but i read your comment to sadje about the tyrant side.
    i know some parents that can be so militant and years ago i read a book about sometimes why this unfolds

    anyhow – your prose flowed and brought us there!

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      1. Same with my dad – a Korean War vet! And it makes me glad that we now offer a lot more help for Vets because you are so right they did not name conditions and were quite unaware!
        On Memorial Day I had time to visit with my other and we watched the Mike Hucakabee show (prerecorded) and one of the ladies said that her dad turned to alcohol for coping and then she mentioned how much better it is for Vets now – not perfect by any means – but in some ways we have made great progress

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  4. This personal narrative works well with the Sestina. It is sad the heavy handed ways of some people, but yours and your sisters spirits couldn’t be silenced. I loved the last two lines, the optimism that it could be different.

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  5. Well conveyed … makes me restless just reading this! My dad too had little patience for chit-chat at the dinner table save his own about current events in the outer world. His hand would fly up, palm in speaker’s face, scowl spewing from his eyes. “Taught” me to parent by opposite model – with meals as gatherings where all got to speak about their day, their fantasies, whatever. [Gotta wonder how that generation was treated as kids at family meals!]
    Thanks for sharing this, VJ … I’m headed off to visit my daughter today [over lunch, talking and chewing on food/anxieties … we’ll each take care of our own dishes!]

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    1. I know my grandfather was the same. Like you, I wanted my table to be a place of laughter and sharing. Enjoy your visit. Family time has become so much more treasured during this pandemic.

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