Lost Sestina

Leonardo's portrait of Ginevra de' Benci was painted c. 1478-80. Only one line of poetry written by Ginevra has survived, the opening of a sestina, which reads: "I ask your forgiveness and I am a mountain tiger."                                  Mary D. Garrard

I ask your forgiveness and I am a mountain tiger,
waiting. Deny me, and my fur bleeds white
while I roam stone peaks that seem from here
(you lift your head to gaze) not of this world
ideas some hand contrived from tempera or oils.
Deny me, and my white paws turn all nail.

But you would not have me suffer, not drive the nail
of your withholding through my heart. My tiger,
you've called me, rubbing your face against the oils
you've rubbed into my breasts and thighs, so white
they seem like snow, if snow could burn. The world
was no more than our chamber. Yes, here

but then our tongues took over, we could not hear
above the blood roar I could feel down to the nail
as I held myself above you, the known world
blurring as trees and shadows must when tigers
rush all tooth and sinew for the kill. O white
annihilation, and afterward the aromatic oils

glistening on us both, heat and sweat and oils
mixed. Sweet lord, is memory to be my enemy? Here
is my heart
, you told me, and held out your hand: white
but for the short dark hairs and yellowing nails.
I asked your forgiveness. Then I waited: as a tiger
stands in the still of the forest I stood in the world

of our chamber thinking how little anyone's world
amounted tosmall heap of bones. Leonardo's oils
would outlast us. How you raged I was his prey, tiger
that would fall into his arms if he desired! Here,
where I have played the soft wood to your nail,
indulged your wildest fancy, lain still and white

while you tongued me from my ankles to my eyes, white
with my ecstasyraged that I'd betrayed you and your world.
Then that baleful glareeach eye sharpened like a nail
by your suspicions.... But my fur sinks thick, the oils
in my body warm me. I'll outwait, outwit you, here
or anywheremake you rue the day you whispered Tiger,

wanting me wilder. No, these oils will crack before your tiger
comes to you white and panting as she once did. I'll wait here,
tending my nails while you hunt in other women, cold as oils.


Poems by Lynne Knight:

Her Story
The Story
Not Even They Could Stop It, and They Were Myth
Boundless Kingdom
Bedtime Story
Lost Sestina
Meditation Interrupted by Bats
Bed and Bone
O, Penelope!
None of Us at Prayer

Dissolving Borders

TIMES TEN: An Anthology of Northern California Poets