Message in a Bottle

First a note: A sestina has six, usually unrhymed, stanzas followed by a stanza of three lines. It’s has the same end words, or form of the words, throughout, in a specific order for each stanza. The last stanza contains all six words, again in a specific order. In this case the words are waste, bottles, medicine, treasure, coughs, and circle. I am pooped and will not likely try this form again, but it was an interesting exercise.

Daddy Joe sent parcels regularly from his hospital job—mostly waste
That patients had left behind: bells and banks and beads and bottles
Sometimes there were books and once a whole box of medicine
In tiny amber glass, samples stolen from an office, a treasure
Passed along to my family who bore winter’s chronic coughs—
Now unpacked and arranged in a tight, full circle.

On the hot water heater in the cramped bathroom, was the circle
Of bottles, sized for a child, jeweled fluid that was not to be wasted.
Something sent at last that had value, medicine for endless winter coughs.
The tiny bottles called to me one night, so I lifted a bottle,
Unscrewed the cap, took a sip and winced at this bitter tasting treasure—
A sour nectar for a knowing child who then opened another bottle of medicine.

I knew to take one sip each so my mother wouldn’t notice the missing medicine
And each night I uncapped a few more bottles from the unending circle,
Careful to place each vessel back into the dusty round made by the treasure
So that no one would know my secret or scold me for being wasteful
Or hide my beautiful vials, stored up high, away—bottles
Then unable to bring dreamy sleep or smiling peace—or to suppress coughs.

Daddy Joe moved nearby and the boxes stopped coming, but my “coughs”
Continued over winter months and I reasoned that sips of the medicine
Would never be detected provided I was careful, so the tiny bottles
Played “Skip to My Lou” on the hot water heater, while my mother circled
The hallway waiting for me to get out of the bathroom and to stop wasting
Time, my hair looked just fine, and the mirror in there wasn’t just my treasure.

It was true. This tiny bathroom held no real treasures
A sink that spewed, a toilet that coughed
A too small tub, and the hot water heater that wasted
The already cramped space: But for the medicine
It was a dismal place but one in which the whole house circled—
The sought after room, the way to be alone, with emotions bottled.

Every Friday night meant a visit to Daddy Joe’s house and to bottles
Of Jack Daniel poured full in water glasses, jewel-toned nectar treasured
By the grownups—a sip here, a sip there, until the glasses circled
Back for a resplendent refill of golden tones set to a backdrop of coughing
Ice and raspy laughter while I escaped to the kitchen with the sweetest medicine—
A near empty glass of forgotten whisky and melting ice, about to be wasted.

Then before spring, the bottles disappeared before our winter coughs,
The amber treasures suddenly wiped away by my mother’s own medicine
A tincture of determination to stop the circling destiny of a family’s waste.