Dooryard Flower


by Ellen Bryant Voigt

Hear Ellen Bryant Voigt read this poem (in RealAudio)

Because you're sick I want to bring you flowers --
unforced, neither imported nor potted,
flowers from the landscape that you love --
because it is your birthday and you're sick
I want to bring outdoors inside,
the natural and wild, picked by my hand,
but nothing is blooming here but daffodils,
archipelagic in the short green
early grass, erupted
bulbs planted decades before we came,
the edge of where a garden once was kept
extended now in a string of islands I straddle
as in a fairy tale, harvesting,
not taking the single blossom from a clump
but thinning where they're thickest, tall-stemmed
from the mother patch, dwarf to the west, most
fully opened in a blowsy whorl,
one with a pale spider luffing her thread,
one with a slow beetle chewing the lip, a few
with what seems almost a lion's face, a lion's mane,
and because there is a shadow on your lungs, your liver,
and elsewhere, hidden,
some of those with delicate green
streaks in the clown's ruff (corolla --
actually made from adapted leaves), and more
right this moment starting to unfold, I've gathered
my two fists full, I carry them like a bride,
I am bringing you the only glorious thing
in the yards and fields between my house and yours,
none of the tulips budded yet, the lilac
a sheaf of sticks, the apple trees
withheld, the birch unleaved --
it could still be winter here, were it not
for green dotted with gold, but you won't wait
for dogtoothed violets, trillium under the pines,
and who could bear azaleas, dogwood, early profuse rose
of somewhere else when you are assaulted here, early May,
not any calm narcissus, orange corona
on scalloped white, not even its slender stalk
in a fountain of leaves, no stiff cornets of the honest
jonquils, gendered parts upthrust in brass and cream:
just this common flash in anyone's yard,
scrambled cluster of petals
crayon-yellow, as in a child's drawing of the sun,
I'm bringing you a sun, a children's choir, host
of transient voices -- wasn't it always
anyone's child you loved? -- first bright
splash in the gray exhausted world, a feast
of the dooryard flower we call butter-and-egg.

Ellen Bryant Voigt lives in Vermont. Her most recent collection of poems is (1995). A book of her essays, The Flexible Lyric, will be published in the fall.

The Atlantic Monthly; March 1999; Dooryard Flower; Volume 283, No. 3; page 88.

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