(after "Love’s Maturity" by Hadewijch of Antwerp)
You whom I loved
with the first heart, which was fierce,
saves such hungers to feed on,
how the years multiply scents
is forever young,
how your name
is still a murmur on my mouth —
whenever I bend
to the heady scent of gardenias—
that old fashioned—too-fragile flower
you always brought me instead of words . . . .
you do not want
inferior to pain
and useless as
that will die and
useless as the
giving of flowers
as symbols of ineptness
or maybe an eloquence
or maybe a fragment
of silence left over
from worn-out love
some love ungiven
or unreceived if given
you do not want
any of this
you turn away
your broken gardenia
in my hand
I BURDEN YOU WITH ROSES
Do not expect this to be real.
There are no realities,
only the lies we tell ourselves
in the colorless world
of this gray winter—
only this pathway
of faded petals,
crushed into incense.
We will use anything
to make a reason for staying.
(after LILAS BLANCS DANS UN VASE DE VERRE [Vase of White
Lilacs and Roses] from “The Last Flowers of Manet”)
Lilacs painted with the roses mend each other’s
light. The room grows dark. The day is
dying. The artist needs his sleep.
Hush the shadows—
with liquid dark
where the water in the vase
helps the stems
support the flowers,
and the flowers
bruise the leaves—
and the table
holds back shadows
with its wrinkled tablecloth.
And the lilacs
shine with whiteness. And the roses
go more deep. And the near-blind artist sleeps.
(first pub. in Ekphrasis, 2004)
(after “My Life In Robes” by Leonard Cohen)
My life in roses . . .
I thought this is what you meant to say,
but words melt in the rain
when compromise is made.
What else is there to believe
but what one wants to hear?
You always were the one
to speak into silence
as though it were a script
for tragedy—and roses
seemed a likely word to say,
whatever the stage of surrender.
You lick the blood from your finger
when I mention this.
(first pub. in Poetry Now, 2009)
PIECES OF REGRET
Something stirring, like regret, the fragment
sensation surfacing again—the rich scent of
gardenias that always take me back to where
you are, young and in love with me . . .
I have a brown gar-
denia pulled from a neglected summer bush
that I rescue just in time to let it remind me,
let regret burn down, like a candle left to
burn down . . .
Now all the pieces
fit in a sad collage: scents and sounds, scraps
of music mixed with seagull cries and the
sighing of the sea where I stand on docks
over water, that rocking motion where I match
the rhythm of time, my body that pulls at me,
an old connection . . .
But always I must
leave, the fragments fall like pieces of memory:
dancehall lights and music, all mixed together,
an old band is playing and I am wearing a pink
oleander in my hair . . .
THANK YOU FOR THE ROSES
it is now i must write of
hard against flowers
the roses you bring
making a sadness
against your skin
and there they linger
bringing me nearer
for the kiss of both of you
it is not only roses
that you touch
but my face
when you give them to me
with wounded hands
(first pub. in Monument in Cantos and Essays (6),
Lemon Center for Hot buttered Roll, 1975)
WELL, IF IT’S ONLY ROSES THAT WE KILL
One more rose
for whatever reason.
But you put it
in a bottle without water,
let it wilt there overnight
while I was not there
to save its life.
turning dry at the edges.
This morning I forgave us both,
I threw the sick gardenias out,
for your silent flower.
cannot thank itself for love,
unless it knows
a better way
than one unhappy poem
one near-dead rose.
(first pub. in Voices International, 1971)
WEARING A DRESS
OF VIOLENT RED ROSES
I go where I go wearing a violent gown of red
roses. Now I am covered with scars. I go
where I go in my violent dress that tears and
tears until I am bleeding. I save no petals to
put in a petal jar. Soon I am a long dry stem
free of all I had to carry—except for the thorns.