V  P  R

Contemporary Poetry and Poetics





For years I’d admired them in other women’s gardens,
crowds of narcissus, almost the earliest spring blooms,
clouds of white blossoms waving on tall stems,
a memory of love so intense and curious,
so heartbreaking, even the gods and botanists took notice.

As soon as there was space for my own, then,
I was on my knees clearing the southwest, warmest, sheltered
corner, turning the clayey soil, digging in loamy peat to lighten it.
Zack and I planted the first batch,
three dozen or so I’d got at the dime store,
small, scaly brown bulbs, ordinary, unpromising,
except that I loved them, whispering "blossom" and "spring"
in my greenest vowels on that crisp October afternoon.
We put them down with a flourish of bone meal,
good talk—in threes, to ward away
the winter's loneliness.  When the last was patted in,
we sat back on shaky haunches and poured
the last of our beer, sprinkled the last sun,
libation for blooming.

They’d just be settling down now, these years away,
gripping down against the gradual freeze,
December fingering through that good soil.
They would not guess, intent on layering over
the inmost idea of green at their hearts,
that the darkness above them now is unnatural, is asphalt,
that we’re all through blooming there,
gone away to other places, other dreams.

Still these years and boundaries away, this
autumn in the farthest place I’ve ever come, I find myself
repeating without question the charm against losing:
carrying home these fat brown scaly bulbs,
arranging them to make the spell complete—
five, in clear water
over white rocks in a wide white bowl.

Placid, unmindful of the outside chill, they’ve yearned
each day taller toward fluorescent light,
curious for what it will reveal.
Yet, today, as if they know I’ve tried to write about them
and have heard the darker story out of which they came,
or as if they begin to understand the darker side of aspiration;  or
as if, simply in the way that women have who live together long,
they’ve sensed my winter blood brooding toward solstice,
they are bending down, crazily down on all sides.
Narcissi still, over even this small artificial pool,
they are living out their myth, leaning in
to find a dream of themselves, leaning in
to that deep heartbreak.

This time I will save them,
reverse their pale immortal love.
I will stake them upright, tie their stems together
with ribbons red as Christmas,
an uncut bouquet of long and proper bloom.
I will whisper in my purest vowels,
"white," and "sweet-smelling,"
then let them die, die down again,
into their own time, into themselves again.
This time, will I be wise enough to go with them,
feeling my own awkward mortal way
into the slow reviving darkness at the heart
of any green sweet thrusting dream?


© by Kathleen Mullen


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