Monday, July 4, 2011

The Dark Side of Flowers

I have forgotten how to be hot. A high-pressure system parked itself nearby and we’re having triple-digit temperatures day after day. It has been so long since we had 105-degree afternoons that I don’t know what to do with myself. My office isn’t air-conditioned. I find myself looking around the house, wondering what to do. Do what you’ve done before, I tell myself. But last year’s summer is a terrible smear of memories of my mother’s slide into death, and I don’t know what I did.

One major accomplishment this past week is a new manuscript of my poetry. I submitted the previous manuscript to a few competitions and it didn’t make the cut, so I’ve shelved it. June 30 was the deadline for two competitions hosted by small presses, so I cranked, with the help of my daughter Milo, who sorted through stacks of poems for me with wonderful ruthlessness.

Letters from a Distant God, I titled it. I arranged it in a loosely chronological order so that it tells the tale of struggling to come to terms with a long sense of disconnection with God. It begins with a frightened childhood and an alienated adulthood, then plummets into depression and hospitalization, struggles through my mother’s ballet with Alzheimer’s, and finally arrives in my scarred but hopeful midlife, grateful to the God who has been sometimes so very hard to trust but who has blessed me.

One of the poems I originally included, but later cut from the final draft, is suitable for a place in this week’s Poetry Jam. Jam maestro Poetikat requires dark poetry with a floral theme. I’ve been carefully tending my dahlias for months so they’ll make a good showing in the regional fair's flower competition in a few weeks. The original version of this poem was composed while on a similar mission two years ago.

I Thought I Was the Breath of Life

Planting in my garden
I had thoughts of myself.
I am the breath of life, I thought.
I speak into the soil
and flowers bloom.

Like God I touch the earth
and living things spring up.
I plunge dark matter into the dirt,
and beauty sprouts there.

Blood drips from my hands
and sweat blinds my eyes.
This living sacrifice
calls forth the dahlias
and they rise from the dead!

When the gopher
burrowed into my yard
I became the whore of Babylon
hell-bent on destruction.

I thrust poison into the soil,
my precious soil.
I pumped gas, planted bombs,
baited pincher traps.
Screw nature.
I throbbed with blood lust.

Until I found
that soft brown body
terminally squeezed,
I never knew death
could be so hilarious.


Peter Goulding said...

Hilarious is a strange word to end the poem on. I was expecting remorse, but that's what good poetry does, makes you jolt backwards! Great metaphorical poem - if this was shelved, I can't wait to see your finished manuscript.
(By the way, your link on PJ isn't working - think you have a comma where there should be a full stop)

Brian Miller said...

ouch...reminiscnet of caddy least you did not take a dart in the posterior...

Kat Mortensen said...

Oh how cruel! And yet the poem is undeniably brilliant. That last line is excellent - suggesting a descent into madness.
Love it, Chris!


Elisabeth said...

Ah Enchanted Oak, your poetry is enchanting, even in the heat.

Gerry Snape said...

My hands are bloody and full of thorns from cutting back the long arms of the new rose tree growth to make sure that noone is snagged and pierced by them....feeling you poem and loving your honest post.

The Bug said...

I'm with Kat - I can just hear the maniacal laughter too. Gardening is such a trade-off - life against life and you are the gardening God who chooses who gets to live or die. Cool!

e said...

Great poem; you can be grateful the heat hasn't gotten to you.

Helen said...

This is great, Chris! I love dahlias ... rising from the dead is a great line! Whore of Babylon equally great! I can see you laughing over the corpse.

Jessica Maybury said...

ah deadly stuff :D 'hilarious' made me crack a grin that, without a mirror to see it, I can tell you nevertheless felt wicked.

I love it! I love it! You're brilliant! It's weird because the poem made me happy because it was great and tickled something devilish in me, and there's no words to to be able to tell you how I feel except by resorting to infantile verbal flailing.

So....I love it! I love it! You're brilliant!

Steve E said...

Is this Murderous or Muderous? I like it, either way. Dirty hands, YAY! But 'blood dripping from my hands.

I killed a sick cat once, it was VERY difficult. Cat would not die, kept returning to look at me with those eyes accusatory. I was age 8...

It was not hilarious. But your poem IS, and rightly so. A master does not 'anvil out' junk!

Titus said...

Oh, best of luck with the manuscript and I hope there are some very intelligent editors over there who snaffle you up as quickly as possible.
And another wow! to the poem - it really took off for me with the gopher/Whore of Babylon verse. I loved the 'Screw nature.' line - a great three syllables and so right to isolate them with the full stop.
And yep, those final two lines are superb.

Lou said...

My neighbor is a zealous gardener who kills all manner of intruders. I don't like it!

With that said, the poem was a delicious surprise:)

the walking man said...

I like the goal of keeping something beautiful from becoming food for a gopher yet I would have used Life for Death in the last verse. In the preceding portion your life ending goal was clearly brought out.

Do well in the competition kiddo. I just don't have the will or energy for that submission any more.

Magpie said...

I guess the fact that the death of a gopher gives a gardener such delight, is testimony to his tenacity and craftiness. His hide is a worthy trophy. :)

Cassiopeia Rises said...

Oh my but this is very dark. Your imagery is covered in blood. How wonderful. Love it.


Mama Zen said...

I love it, I love it, I love it!

Lolamouse said...

Last line gave me quite the jolt. Alas, I am a wimp when it comes to killing animals. I'll try to keep them out, but I won't kill them. This made me want to cry, but that's what good poetry does, right?

Syd said...

I am sorry for the gopher. Even gophers have to eat. I gave up on killing moles. It was just too much when their little mole bodies would be pierced by the spike of the trap. Hope that your new work fairs well and is published.

young-eclectic-encounters said...

What a strange end to the poem not what I expected but thought provoking
Johnina :^S

RNSANE said...

Chris, I just love that! My best friend, of 49 years, is visiting me for two weeks from New Orleans, and she is having critter woes in her garden. I read her your poem and she is spilling her coffee everywhere, laughing. I must go clean up the mess!

Poetic Soul said...

Huge fan of your work, you killed it well done