November Poetry: "My Last Sestina" by Nick Carbo

Curated as part of the Adoptee Poetry Folio by Guest Editor Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello
November 9, 2017

This November, to recognize and honor National Adoption Awareness Month, I've invited adoptee poet Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello to curate a folio of poems by 10 Asian American adoptees. This page features Nick Carbo's "My Last Sestina." I invite you to take a moment to read her moving introduction to the folio here, as well as the other nine poems in this collection.

— Eugenia Leigh, Poetry Editor

My Last Sestina

The day the sparrow, Edith Piaf, really died
was on October 10 — after driving all night,
her husband Theo brought her body
to Paris to declare she drew her last breath
in the city she loved. On the 11th, fountains
stopped, Jean Cocteau’s heart failed,

poets went deaf, chiaroscuro lovers failed,
white clouds turned ecru, darting sparrows died
in the middle of cinema sentences, pastry fountains
lost their vanilla lapping lights throughout the night.
My birthday is on the 10th in 1964, a long breath
of a year after La Môme mistook her frail body

for an Aeolian motif. I don’t regret being born a nobody
given up for adoption. An accident of an affair, a failed
canvas of russet promises, an unexpected break of breath.
Last year I spent my 44th alone in Amsterdam, the future died
and my suicide attempts were ricocheting across the night.
A month earlier I had walked out of fifteen years of fountains,

a safe curtilage of compassion, toes in imaginary fountains
filled to the brim with Lorazepam and Paroxetine. My body
and mind were to blame? Was I medicated enough at night?
Even the charming breasts waving at me from windows failed
to entice me indoors. Vermeer whites and Rembrandt blacks died
in the gray skies. Loss of self-esteem accumulates like bad breath.

I chose the blurry wrong of driving my breath
all the way to Paris, rescinded my vows, stopped the fountains
from overflowing. I fraternized with bridges, senses died
one by one, numb to La Vie en Rose, a desiccated body
uninterested in writing a line of verse. Was I a failed
poet, spouse, son, brother? No Père Lachaise midnight

visits if I could not write this poem. Edith sang all night
at times having collapsed like Lana Turner but her breath
got her up to go on. Morphine and martinis failed
to keep the voice down. The men who left her, fountains
of froissers tucked away like handkerchiefs. Anybody
can resist death even when one step away. I died

eating alone on my failed birthday in the Amsterdam night.
My life fell in and died in the bowl of zuppa di pesce, a breath
moving from Paris to the fountains of Holland burdened by a body.


This piece was published as part of the November Adoptee Literature Folio. To see other works from the folio, please visit the table of contents here.



Nick Carbo

Nick Carbo is the author of four books of poetry, the latest being Chinese, Japanese, What are These? (Pecan Grove Press, 2009). He has won grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts.