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,
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.