Sealey, N. Photo by Rachel Eliza Griffiths.jpg

Nicole Sealey

Originally, I’d envisioned writing six “Clue” sestinas, each accusing a different character of Mr. Boddy's murder. After writing the second installment, however, I realized that six murder/mystery sestinas would be overkill — pun not intended— and one alternate ending was enough. 

I conceived of the idea for "Clue" at either the 2009 or 2010 Cave Canem retreat, where the first stanza of the sestina pair was first workshopped. I didn't have much time with the idea/poem then, as I had to write a new poem each day. When I returned home, however, I hit the ground running. I knew I wanted the telutons or end words to be variations of the characters' names, so I scanned the dictionary for variants of green, mustard, peacock, plum, scarlet and white. My search yielded little for peacock and scarlet, but much for the other four words. I was restricted by both the results of my search and by the conditions I had set for the poem. One such condition: I limited my use of the characters' proper names as telutons to only eighteen times per sestina. The overuse of and over-leaning on their proper names, I suspected early on, could limit the trajectory of invention — in terms of mystery and surprise. I couldn't have that. 

 

 Initial notes for "clue"

Initial notes for "clue"

 "clue" draft -- not done, despite note

"clue" draft -- not done, despite note

Clue

i.  

“Hands down, mustard
is the tastiest condiment,” coughed Professor Plum—
his full mouth feigning hunger for the greens-
only sandwiches Mrs. White
laid out for Mr. Boddy’s guests. Miss Scarlet
hadn’t time to peel off her peacoat

before the no-frills food, which she declined, and a pre-cocktail
cocktail, which she accepted. Colonel Mustard
refused all fare, citing the risk of sullying his scarlet
and gold Marine Corps suit, then ate the sugarplums
that happenchanced his pockets like lint. Mrs. White
funneled the motley crew into the green- 

house, where Mr. Green
was rumoring—his hand bridging his mouth to Mrs. Peacock’s
ear in an effort to convince the white-
haired heiress that the sandwich-making maidservant must’ve
poisoned their plum
wine. Mr. Boddy’s award-winning scarlet

runners initially amused Miss Scarlet,
the way one is amused by another with the same name. Mr. Green
thought it odd Mr. Boddy didn’t show, told Professor Plum
as much. “Here we are, pretty as peacocks,
and our host is nowhere to be found,” twirling his mustache
like the villain in a silent black and white.

Minutes into the conservatory tour, Mrs. White
introduced Mr. Boddy, who lay facedown in a scarlet-
berried elder. “This man,” Colonel Mustard
said, “is dead. I know death, even when it’s camouflaged by greenery.”
The discovery proved too much for Mrs. Peacock’s
usual aplomb—
           
she fainted into the arms of Professor Plum.
When she came to, he appeared to her the way a white
knight would look to a distressed damsel. Semiconscious, Mrs. Peacock
pointed to the deceased’s pet Scarlet
Tanager perched on a lead pipe between the body and a briefcase gushing green-
backs. Right away, Colonel Mustard

mustered up an alibi about admiring Mr. Boddy’s plumerias.
Mr. Green followed suit with his own white-
washed version involving one Miss Scarlet and a misdemeanor plea copped…

ii.

“Dinner is served,” said Mrs. White,
inviting Mr. Boddy’s guests by their noms de plume
into the dining room for a precooked
reheated repast. Miss Scarlet
passed the pickings, which didn’t pass muster,
to a rather ravenous Mr. Green.

Nobody faked affability better than Mr. Green,
waving his napkin like a white
flag, acting out the conquered in Colonel Mustard’s
combat stories. Here was Professor Plum’s
chance to charm a certain lady, catching what he called scarlet
fever. “I’ve seen more convincing peacocking

from a tadpole,” quipped Mrs. Peacock,
retiring to the library, green
tea in hand and a tickled Miss Scarlet
in tow. Mr. Boddy’s absence was so brazen it bred white
noise not even tales of exemplum
heroism, narrated by and starring Colonel Mustard,

could quiet—his presence, by all accounts, as keen as mustard
and showy as a pride of peacocks.
Like a boy exiled to his room, Professor Plum
excused himself, giving the others the green
light to do the same. Mrs. White
was in the kitchen scouring skillets

when she heard who she thought was Miss Scarlet
scream. Mr. Boddy’s musty
old library was a crime scene, his final fall on this white-
knuckle ride towards death. “For the dead,” Mrs. Peacock
said, “the grass is greener
on the side of the living.” While plumbing

Mr. Boddy’s body for clues, Professor Plum
found no visible wound—the would-be host appeared scarless,
despite blood haloing his head on the shagreen
rug and a bloodstained candlestick Colonel Mustard  
recognized from dinner. Mrs. Peacock
avoided the sight, turning white

as the sheet with which Mrs. White covered the corpse. Plum
sick of the “poppycock” accusations, she sped into the starlit
night in a ragtop mustang belonging to Mr. Green.