by Paisley Rekdal
Cut back the stems an inch to keep in bloom.
So instructs the florist’s note
enclosed inside the flowers.
Who knew what was cut
could heal again, the green wounds close,
stitching themselves together?
It doesn’t matter. The flowers, red
and white, will bloom awhile, then wither.
You sit in an unlit room and watch
the vase throw crystal shadows through the dark.
The flowers’ colors are so lovely they’re painful.
In a week, you’ll have to throw them out.
It’s only hope that makes you take out scissors,
separate each bloom and cut
where you last measured. Did you know
Venus was said to turn into a virgin
each time she bathed? She did it
as a mark of love. She did it
so as to please her lovers. Perhaps,
overwhelmed by pain,
she eventually stopped bathing
altogether. It doesn’t matter. It’s a pleasure
to feel the green nubs stripped, watch the stems
refresh under your blade. They’re here
because they’re beautiful. They glow
inside your crystal vase. And yet
the flowers by themselves are nothing:
only a refraction of color that,
in a week or two, will be thrown out.
Day by day, the water lowers. The red-
and-white heads droop, blacken at the stems.
It doesn’t matter. Even cut stems heal.
But what is the point of pain if it heals?
Some things should last forever, instructs
the florist’s note. Pleasure,
says one god. Shame, says another.
Venus heads, they call these flowers.
In a week or two, you’ll lose the note,
have to call the florist up.
With sympathy, you’ll think he says.
Perhaps: With love. It doesn’t matter.
You’ve stopped bathing. Alone,
you sit before the crystal
vase refracting you in pieces
through the dark. You watch
the pale skin bloom inside it, wither.
You petal, inch by inch.
You turn red and white together.
Last updated August 26, 2022