False Flowers by Anne Stevenson

False Flowers

by Anne Stevenson

(for Caroline Ireland)
They were to have been a love gift,
but when she slit the paper funnel,
they both saw they were fake; false flowers
he’d picked in haste from the store’s display,
handmade coloured stuff, stiff as crinoline.

Instantly she thought of women’s hands
cutting in grimy light by a sweatshop window;
rough plank tables strewn with cut-out
flower heads: lily, iris, primula, scentless
chrysanthemums, pistils rigged on wire
in crowns of sponge-tipped stamens,
sepals and petals perfect, perfectly
immune to menaces from the garden.

Why so wrong, so…flattening? Why not instead
symbols of unchanging love?
Yet pretty enough,
she considered, arranging them in a vase
with dry grass and last summer’s hydrangeas
whose deadness was still (how to put it?)
alive, or maybe the other side of life.
Two sides, really, of the same thing?

She laughed a little, such ideas were embarrassing
even when kept to oneself,
but her train of thought
carried her in its private tunnel through supper,
and at bedtime, brushing her teeth,
she happened to look up at the moon.
Its sunlit face was turned, as always, in her direction.
The full moon, she couldn’t help thinking,
though we see only half of it.

It was an insight she decided she could
share with him, but when he joined her
and together they lay in the dark,
there seemed no reason to say anything.
The words, in any case, would be wrong,
would escape or disfigure her meaning.
Good was the syllable she murmured to him,
fading into sleep. And just for a split second,
teetering on the verge of it, she believed
everything that had to be was understood.

Anne Stevenson, “False Flowers” from Poems 1955-2005. Copyright © 2005 by Anne Stevenson. Reprinted with the permission of Bloodaxe Books Ltd. www.bloodaxebooks.com

Source: Poems 1955-2005 (Bloodaxe Books, 2005)

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