ODE TO HYDRANGEAS ENDING IN REFLECTION ON A CHILDHOOD VISIT FROM THE EMERGENCY HOME NURSE; OR, UPON LEARNING THAT CERTAIN FLOWERS FEED ON FERTILIZER MADE FROM HUMAN REMAINS
by Perry Janes
Orchids in the bio-dome.
Burnt chassis on the street.
I’m walking between sewer grate
cloches rilled with steam
in a friend’s back alley
on Detroit’s east side. It’s night.
I describe the land so you understand
when I write I pause and say “What a moon”
to the speedboat in the lawn, the windows
graffiti’d God God God you know
I’m not bullshitting. There’s a speedboat
in the lawn. There are Gods written
on the houses. It’s all one violent collage,
isn’t it? Even flowers mobbing
the fence line (hydrangeas, I think)
and the neighbor
I’m told rises each Sunday
to pour crematorium ash
from John and Jane Does into nail-drawn
furrows. Their off colored petals.
Her prayer. I hadn’t known
it worked like this: roots responding to acid
in the loam, blossoms burning pink
and blue and red. Would you believe
I grew from boy to man
without once digging knuckle-deep
in soil? I hold little
warmth for what dirties my knees.
So it surprises me when I stoop
to the ground, cup a nearby bloom, pick
a dead fly’s wing from its anther,
lean close, and—
The last thing I want
is to pluck the flowered stem
I had nothing to do with planting or caring for,
never watered from the garden hose
or shook awake on a cold school morning
with a thermos of cocoa already steaming,
that I never, not once, noticed
as it walked down the street
with headphones rattling
at their poorly glued seams
a bass line pronouncing i am here
i am here i am here i am here i am here.
That I only now know to admire.
Just one petal. That’s all
I take. And like the wafer I never ate
at school mass, all that business of the body
not really the body, I place it
on my tongue and chew. Confess:
you’ve wanted to believe this
silly theater, to sieve another person’s
grief against your teeth, sorrow stored
in arterial valves, filtered by liver and gallbladder,
the million small assignments of muscle
that keep us functioning until one day—
It isn’t the taste that gets me
but the color, that sudden red
leaking from my lips. Red that calls
back memories of knuckle and gravel,
skinned palms on bathroom tile, my boyhood
head split behind the ear. Is there anything
more tender than being a child
bent at the enamel basin?
Knees to the floor. Pruned to the nape.
Some man picking
dirt from your blood.
Perry Janes is a writer and filmmaker from Metro Detroit, Michigan. His recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Beloit Poetry Journal, Tupelo Quarterly, The Indiana Review, The Adroit Journal, and others. A recipient of The Pushcart Prize and the AMPAS Student Academy Award, he lives in Los Angeles, California, where he is a creator in the inaugural Imagine Impact Program and an MFA candidate in poetry at Warren Wilson College.