Help Us Write a Sonnet: Line SixPrint
By David Lehman
How like a prison is my cubicle,
And yet how far my mind can freely roam
From gaol to Jerusalem, Hell to home.
Freedom ends or starts with a funeral.
Say what must die inside that I may not
Cast down this die and cross the Rubicon
Line six, Anna E. Moss’s “Cast down this die and cross the Rubicon,” won me over with its repetition of the previous line’s “die” but in a completely different sense: not the verb of mortality but a noun, the singular of dice. The line makes a cunning allusion to Julius Caesar, who said “alea lacta est”—“the die is cast”—when he and his armies successfully crossed the Rubicon River south of Ravenna in 49 B.C.
For the second straight week, Joe Lawlor is top runner-up. He proposed a period after line five and then “Say what must not that I may bear to live.” Third place goes to Lewis Saul for sheer creativity: “Croak in Benghazi. Wasn’t that your wish?” I was also taken with several smart candidates suggested by Hazel Nolan, including “Betray the grass-stained girl I used to be” and “Betray the barefoot boy, who once ran free,” though I wondered whether these gender-specific constructions might prove a burden to contestants of the opposite sex.
For line seven, we have the opportunity to revitalize a trite expression (“cross the Rubicon” meaning something like “no turning back”) by grounding it in fact or conjecture. What happened there in 49 B.C? What does the river look like? I can imagine a continuation of the ironic comparison of the speaker with world-conqueror Julius Caesar. But it is not my poem—it is ours, and I depend on your ingenuity, ladies and gentlemen. Oh, and we need to rhyme the next line, if only loosely, with “Rubicon.” A tall order? No taller than “cubicle,” with which it shares the same foundational consonants. “Leprechaun,” “marathon,” and “novocaine” would be equally eligible, to give some examples that come to mind.
How like a prison is my cubicle, (DL)
And yet how far my mind can freely roam (Leo Braudy)
From gaol to Jerusalem, Hell to home. (Brian Anderson and his 12th grade composition class)
Freedom ends or starts with a funeral. (Frank Bidart)
Say what must die inside that I may not (MQ)
Cast down this die and cross the Rubicon (Anna E. Moss)
Please leave your suggestion for the next line in a comment below.
David Lehman is the series editor for The Best American Poetry annual anthology. He has published eight books of poetry, the most recent of which is New and Selected Poems.
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