Everything rots but flowers leave memories.
I was the child who loved flowers, dried, fresh,
not just their fragrance but their bee-stung
bodies prayerfully folded into dusty skin.
I was the child who walked limp-limbed, scent-drunk,
with the smell of spit on my hands, swearing:
Relinquish me of my desire
to be sunlit, beautiful.
They sat in vinegar water, blooming
past their time, their mouths open, white roaring
tigers perched high on the mantle top
in the robe room, down in the church cellar -
I moved swiftly on my tiptoes, stealing
a petal and a stem, wiping dust
from their long, knotty tongues onto my lips.
What was I to do with such big wet lilies?
I was a fire-eater, a witch. I opened
my eyes during the humming benediction
and tipped down to the cellar, stopping time,
dropping the prayer book, its pages fluttering,
and I laid my body in the moist dark
of the robe room, closing the door tight,
eyes not used to the dark, eyes wet, alive
breathing quietly, taking stems in reed-like
halves to wet my lips . . .
When the deacons found me, their arms reaching,
their faces molded into black masks,
I was honey-eyed, softly burping.
They called out my name in the darkness
of the robe room, and probed my mouth until
the flaking bits and evidence was found
and they whispered in my ear:
Girls have names like flowers . . .
Boys have names you can yell . . .
What is your name? Do you know your name?
But all my secrets were silent and heat
flowed through me like fire in glass.
© Jonathan David Jackson
First published in Ploughshares, Winter 99-00
Then reprinted in the Pushcart Prize Anthology 2001
& winner of a 2001 Pushcart Prize