P e t a l s

**I wrote this in October, when sunflowers were in season. Scott likes it better than anything else I’ve written.**


“Cut the sunflower a little lower – there!”

Jenny listens to her manager and snips the thick stalk

She nestles the bloom into a bed of seeded eucalyptus

Then picks up a stem of pale green hydrangea

And works it in, working, working, as fast as she can

The delivery driver waiting, watching, tapping his fingers on the counter

Trying not to think about the homework

He needs to do when he gets home tonight

Jenny’s hands are flying now, bringing in solidago, spiral eucalyptus,

And rust-colored mums

And she keeps moving the sunflower, which doesn’t seem to want

To stay in the right place

And she tries not to bruise the golden petals

Like the worker on the California farm

Who made the first assault

When she took her knife to the base of the stem

And swept up the bloom to

Add it to her growing bounty of gold

Her name is Ana and she makes less

Than Jenny’s supermarket wage of $9 an hour

When Ana made that first cut,

She was thinking about the milk in her breasts

That needed to be pumped before the day was through

And she was thinking about the sleep she didn’t get

When baby Anita cried all night long

And she was thinking about the petals

Bright, garish, and oppressive in their ubiquity

And yet relentlessly beautiful

And she was careful not to bruise them

As was the bundler in the packaging room

Whose name is Betty and whose wrists were tired

They are always tired

Vern, the Ameri-Cal Floral driver, knew that day 

That he had a long night ahead

The road was not his friend, but it was

Always his companion

And he was not thinking about the petals

Of the sunflower, now wrapped and bundled in a long box

Vern was thinking of his favorite radio show,

“Night Figures,” a speculative show about aliens

That was just about to start

When he revved up the engine

And he was thinking about his next cig,

Which was nestled carefully in its soft box in his left pocket

Vern handed the flower box off to Josie at Floral Distributors, Incorporated

At 3 a.m. this morning,

And Josie, frazzled but hardened in her overnight shift

Handed it off to Steve, the driver, who didn’t like talk radio

But preferred top 40 hits instead

Steve was thinking about how he wanted to maybe go back to school

He was still young, he thought, and maybe he

Could make it in business


Steve was thinking about that when he handed the box of sunflowers off

To Jenny at 7 a.m., who smiled

And in her brown eyes he thought he saw the tiredness he felt

And he made a joke about coffee

And she laughed

But it wasn’t funny

And he knew it

The piece is finished now, the sunflower is set

“Just one moment, Alex,” Jenny says,

“And you’ll be on your way.”

She scrawls “You are my baby forever, hope this makes you smile”

On a tiny square of paper

And writes a name and address on a tiny envelope

Amanda, a tired mother of three, opens her door twenty minutes later

She emerges from a cacophony of childish noises

And brushes a blonde curl away from her green eyes

And she blinks at the sunflower

And the hydrangea, and the seeded eucalyptus,

And the rust-colored mums

And the tiny envelope

And she knows that the fight they had last night

Is over now

And she takes the vase

Careful not to bruise the petals

Of the flower she has always thought

To be a little garish, maybe a little too bright

But he can’t be expected

To know that


remember this when you are grown
the feel of mommy’s cheek
the blue, the pink, the golden hues
the simple way you speak

i can whisper this to you
the words will disappear
but still i pray you’ll feel it when
you’re staring down that beer

maybe i can’t hold you then
when they have pushed you down
maybe i’ll be dust and earth
and it feels good to drown

i know that there are wolves out there
that daily life can drag you
i know the screens can numb your mind
i know the boss can nag you

i also know though — as do you —
in this tiny moment
the breeze, the freshness of the clouds
this life
— and power to own it

remembering is nothing more
than my whole heart in yours
i cannot fight your battles, son,
but love can push your wars

I guess that’s why

“What about bangs?”
I flip a patch of hair up
on my forehead and ask him
to squint

His eyes are somewhere between tired
and “please, just...”

I drop the hair and smooth
it out as I pout at my reflection
in the mirror

“A woman gets bored,”
I tell him

He is putting on his gloves now,
and his eyes still look like that
I am putting on my hat now,
and I am watching

“I just shaved off my beard for you,”
he says, buttoning up his coat

“What about highlights? Or red? Or...”

“You know my preference. I like it just...”

“...the way it is.”

Those eyes again.

We are outside now,
walking down the street to the cafe

“I just don’t think you should disregard everything I say,”
he says,
like that’s a thing

“When have I ever done that?”
I reach for his gloved hand with my own
and we fall into a familiar step

“I guess you don’t on the big stuff...”

“Try to think about a time I ever did.”



He puts it together in his head,
and this piece comes out anyway:
“Well, I never do that to you, though...”

“And I never said you did.”

I see him smile out of the corner of his mouth

“Well, maybe that’s why we’re such good friends.”

to the owl on my street

You are always asking,

“ Who? ”

Who do you want to know?
Who am I?
I am small,
I have long hair,
I have green eyes,
I have a pretty ring
around my finger and I live
in that attic
up there

...with whom, you may ask?
With a man 
who has hazel eyes
and a great laugh
and a deep voice
and a hunger
for a living we are always
working for
searching for
Maybe we’ll find it
one day

“ Who ? ”

I hear your call again
as I blow a puff of frosty air
and walk
along this uneven sidewalk
in the night

“ Who ? ”

Who do you want to know?
Who made you?
I want to know that too!
Is this maker real?
Full of artistry and magic?
Full of thoughts of things like you:
your feathers,
your eyes,
your hunger
and your wistful 

“ Who ? ”

Who is your next meal?

Who is your mate?

will catch a glimpse of you
haunting the night air?

“ Who ? ”

I want to know “who” too
are you
Are you magic?
Are you mystery?
Are you brown or white?
Are you young,
are you old?
Are you happy?

I am turning toward my home now
You can always know that here
There is someone watching for you

You know who

A moment

Me, with the name tag and the apron and the bright dangly earrings:

“Are these flowers for you, or are you giving them to a friend? They’re so pretty.”

Her, with the dark pink lipstick bleeding through the cracks of her lips and her wrinkles, unashamed, framing her bright eyes in an upward way:

“They’re for me! A little color goes a long way.”