The young girls walk by looking like wedding

cakes, art nouveau vases. They are

wearing only peonies. Exhausted

from wearing beauty, they night hurry

home to pull the flowers over their heads.

They learn that once you wear

a dress of peonies, your skin is forever

fragranced with the flowers' operatic sweet sadness. All

over the early June city, collapsed dresses of peonies

still as rugs incense bedrooms. Wild

canaries fly from the dresses' peony-scented puddles

and sing about the sleeping girls.

Have you heard the peonies' glossolalia?

Have you ever watched a black swallowtail's

gold and sky-blue pierced wings rearranged

by 44 mph winds, while it holds

to a Festiva Maxima Blush peony,

all the while maintaining all

its delicate migrating strength?

Have you seen your neighbor,

white-nightgowned, stop

the morning of her death

to bring greedily to her

face one last time the fragrance

of her greatly loved white Le Jours?

Looking at the sleeping newborn

in its white bassinet, one

would never believe, even if told in great detail,

what will happen to that infant during its life.

Or, if one did believe, one might go mad

with fast forwarded beauty, boredom, and terror.

Looking at the tight small gumball bud, it is

difficult to imagine the coming unfurling,

the coming foliage, the slow-opening beauty,

the insane fragrance. I watch

the drunk crazy ants come like explorers

to travel the tight white and green globes,

the holy-trinity-leaved peony buds.

All over the city, around paint-chipped garages,

around perfectly painted garages,

separating lot lines,

tied to dooryard black-iron railings,

on pillowcases and beds,

holding up houses,

in vases surrounding baths,

in the convent's oddly upright manacled bunches,

in under birdbath heavy collapsed bunches,

in vacant lots, and

reflected in witching balls,

peonies bow with fragrance

and all such burdens of beauty.

It is not hard to understand why my

immigrant grandmothers, both

the tall elegant French one and

the sweet doughy Czechoslovakian one,

prized their Limoges and cutglass

dishes and peonies equally,

why they carried to their American homes

the promise-heavy flowers,

why they opened the soil around their new

homes and planted all the sweet

possible peonies they could find sun for,

nor why when

my mother married and moved to the new

wilderness of the suburbs she

carried the newspaper-wrapped dream

peonies with her. And I,

second generation on each family side,

have planted double-flowered Longfellow peonies

and Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt peonies and

Avalanche peonies all along my front steps

just so that you June visiting

might breathe in all the flowers' information,

longevity, and mad medicinal genius.

My neighbor planted her entire front yard in peonies.

In June, I am disabled with the wild sweet smell.

I cannot sleep. Breathing in the peonies' fragrance

it is easy to understand why people wallpaper

their bedrooms with peonies, perfectly preserve

them under glass bells, try to replicate

their smell in perfumes & in house sprays,

and sleep under peony-decorated comforters.

No dreams are as wonderful as dreams

had after breathing in Queen of Hamburg peonies.

After I've breathed in nights of the truth-drug flowers,

ask me and I will tell you

about women's body memories, about

the slow, moist-opening

of peonies, the ruffled silk slippery dark

-red petals, the ant licked

open peonies, the wealthy smell of nights

of peonies that dream and swell, grow

from tightness to wild reckless

loud unfurled dropping petals.

Have you ever rubbed a peony petal

between your thumb and index finger?

It is smoother than magnolia

tongues, sweeter than yellow cake,

better than any Chinese potion.

Put a peony in your hair —

you will not be disappointed

with the suggestions whispered in your ear.