Thursday, May 10, 2012

Thirteen Flowers

Thirteen Flowers

Madame Monet standing
in a sloping field amid
the orange-crimson
blood of thousands who died,
becoming poppies on the
lapels of old women
who lost husbands
and men who lost
friends in their wars.

Snaking along the ground,
twisting and wrapping
vines that grow an inch a day,
dotted with bright orange
and yellow flames, warm
nasturtiums—mixed with
greens and served at dinner.

The gray sky cracks with
thunder. Dazzling yellow
roses drop tiny petals
into our tea cups as we
rush through the garden,
and inside, in time to
watch sheets of rain
steep the countryside.

My Aunt Gladys grew
gladiolas for her
Ladies’ Flower Club—
graceful, sincere,
they lined the backyard,
slim like rows of whippets,
blossoms unfurling,
assured, sanguine,
just like her.

Statice: crinkly, papery
purple nubs along
a leathery stalk
that attract butterflies,
dried upside down in
a cellar, then arranged
in a Delft vase on a
massive oak table in a
proper German household.

Tropical blossoms of
heavy fuchsia or
burnt orange—a flower,
a cube, a pod collapsed
upon itself. Chameleons skitter
through the thick, stiff growth.
1768, shipboard, Admiral
Louis de Bougainvillea,
gazing out at the horizon,
can’t even begin to dream
of this wild, tenacious vine
that now bears his name.

Diego Rivera’s,
Georgia O’Keefe’s,
Martha Graham looked like an
upside down calla lily and
my grandmother carried them
among ivy tendrils in her
wedding bouquet in 1932,
wearing a dress like Martha’s.

After my grandfather died,
my grandmother grew
geraniums—red or pink like
a delicate, ruffled candy or
an intimate, internal organ—
on the patio, in the backyard.
She let me water them
with a galvanized can
as big as I was.

The California mountain
shifts color—the white gold
of autumn blooms emerald
in the frigid winter rain.
Wait, but don’t watch—
in the spring, a sturdy,
resolute carpet of stalks of
purple lupine rolls out
across the hills.
Now you can look.

Visiting some friends
in Colorado for the
summer, walking down
Main Street, past bunches
of fuzzy, ragged blue balls,
she picks one, puts it
in my buttonhole, says
“Here, a Bachelor Button
for you—because
you’re a bachelor.”

Constant, familiar,
almost like kin,
the honest white fringe
and yolky center of
the daisy, innocent:
I picked them on my
way home from school,
and brought them home
for my mom. She smiled
and put them in a glass.

In a large wicker basket
sent by my Grandma,
spicy red carnations dot
the mass of droopy,
green, pine boughs for
this December memorial
after my father’s suicide.

The scent of pineapple guava,
those tiny pink bursts
that swell into small green
globes full of juice,
cloying, thick and heavy,
actual drops of its aroma
suspended in the air like diamonds,
dripping into my lungs as I
float on my back in a pool
of water as warm as my blood
and study each star,
wondering if I am
really here.

©JEF 2004

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