May Day

May Day. That’s the title of a sestina sent to me by poet Vonnie Thompson.

Thompson writes: I’m not much for forms. I played around with them in college a bit only because I was required to, but found them too restrictive for my stream of consciousness writing style… As I am entering a new phase in my writing life, however, I am finding myself more drawn to the structure and challenge of forms. The more I learn about them, the more I learn where to apply them. I find that sestinas are particularly good for telling a story or describing some sort of short scene, as in “May Day”.

I have often observed May Day, or Beltaine, by dancing in the dawn, greeting the sun with music and bells and fun. It’s an old tradition that I became familiar with when I was participating in Renaissance Faire and hanging out with a bunch of crazy Morris and English Country dancers. Thought I don’t live close to any of my old dancing friends, I still love to greet the dawn on May Day.

May Day

Such a lady in your skirt,

dip and stomp and jump and swirl,

budding, just short of full flower,

the glow in your cheeks invokes the warm

hint of dawn and the patterns repeat

as you dance to raise the sun.

Night sky is teased by the promise of sun

as bells sing a chorus from beneath your skirt

at every turn, a song the pipes repeat.

Orange and pink merge and swirl

petals of sunlight unfold over the horizon, warm

first bloom of a dawn flower.

This is a dance for the young, flowers

and dancers, each dewy face raised to the sun,

twined together in ancient patterns, warmed

by May’s first dawn, like a sweet virgin kiss skirting

a cheek, setting young hearts aswirl

and souls longing for repeat.

Kerchiefs flying faster still, this first love repeats

with every pass, dancers joyfully flinging flowers,

bagpipes skirling, hands and feet and bodies swirling

an invitation to the young rising sun—

join the dance! bursting rays skirting

the horizon, turning cool night-blue skies warm.

The dancers and the dawn an invocation of warmth,

Crescendo tops crescendo repeating

this ancient May Day call, rays winding round skirts

to pounding rhythms, shouts, flowers

now dry of dew launched high into building sunshine

until dancers and sun and dance blur and swirl.

And with a last triumphant shout, these swirling

ancient patterns ebb and stop, warm

bodies glorious in the bursting rays of the sun,

sure in the promise summer’s repeat.

Each dancer offers a final flower

to the Sun, bowed low over stilled skirts.

You give your skirt a final swirl,

flowers gone, cheeks warm,

and repeat in a whisper your prayer to the Sun.

–Vonnie Thompson