Finalist : Terrain.org 6th Annual Contest in Poetry
Sun burns the match-tip-blue cineraria
to the ground, but saves the crop of snails
and fox-tails. Drought-proof
the hollyhocks grow six feet tall,
inch-thick wands with bud knots
like flute stops’ wooden pouts.
Who plays them
but the yellow bird light?
Like blindmen’s seeing-eye canes,
the stems so want the light,
they photo-trope over grape-stake fence slats,
toward tin roofs blazing in sun.
No wonder they bloom valentine plush,
ruby, maroon, the reds
so deep, they’re clotted,
bits of earth’s nether heart.
You found scraps of poetry in the trash, maybe even early versions of this ode, and wondered in a poem of your own how I could throw out “jewels.” You wore no jewels, no make-up, dressed plainly, often in browns and beiges, russets. It was all one with your love of earth, lentil soup served in dark green bowls, the cumin and cardamom in your stews. Some evenings, we sat on the cement slab of porch reading poetry, drinking peridot-green wine, watching the stars through the bay laurel near the door where the white cat perched, ridiculously like a cloud.
Sunlight cuts through the walnut leaves,
drawn then sheathed
as the leaf holes close.
Tides of gnats, surfeit flies, bees
jostle, surf, hover,
motes of life, glinting
only to reappear,
The zinnias bloom taxi-cab
yellow, carmen-miranda- and flamenco-
pink, carnival colors
so hot they cannot possibly die,
or they must.
Magnified, each petal reversed
is furred moon green––as if jazz
had veneered chlorophyll’s
but the hot button
centers, neon pink, vermillion
and red-orange, hold
yellow spires hollowed
like straws made for bees.
The dazzling is abuzz
with their urgency.
You told me eventually how you raised your son in the woods, your intention minimalist, living without television, radio in a coldwater cabin. But for reasons, his desire for a more ordinary life, your frustration, you sent him to live with more conventional kin. One night, he went out to the two-car garage and hung himself. I knew even then that you longed to follow him. I told you how, drunk, I sent my daughter out of the house at 2 a.m. for complaining that I woke her up. I blacked out and came to an hour later to find her huddled in her flannel nightgown in the neighbor’s yard, knees up, hands clasped around them, making her own small shelter. But years later it was you who went into the woods with a gun and blew yourself away, the gray and red of you, grief, guilt, poetry, love, gilding the earth you loved, the leaf mulch and pine mazda.
Passion flowers wound
along one fence the cruciform
in the purple stained bowls,
their yellow greens so acidic
they ached in the gland behind
each ear, like the high
fast notes of violin.
And the pollen littered
the pale green petals white gold
as they drooped and waned:
the urge to be
outlived even the flower.
Hand-wide, head-high, the hollyhocks
nodded as I watered, shedding reds.
They took the sun with reds so deep
they swarmed, ruby veering
to plum, and here, a startle
zig-zag of magenta.
They made my mouth
water, my eyes fill.
No wonder they dizzied me,
like a kneeler who’d
risen too fast, red
gone to my head.
Photo of hollyhocks in garden at sunset courtesy Shutterstock.