by James Hoch

Tulips know how to resist winter,
rot and vagaries of freeze and thaw.
They know to root down against
deer, deluge and drought, that it is
better to repel than to invoke vole,
grub, skunk. They offer their heads
color-heavy and lolling, their necks
green and vulnerable as young
convicts to the bright block of day,
and to deer who early spring hunger
as angels wanting their bodies back.
That is why the Dutch had the habit
of placing skulls beside tulips,
an hour glass which never runs out
completely. One takes the other;
there is emptiness in such gestures.
This is why my friend draws tulips
and skulls with sharpened charcoal
on a white plaster wall in a museum.
So your eye settles on one degree
of intensity or other. For my friend,
the tulips are his daughter leaving,
the skulls his father a car accident,
the air flecked with dark dust.
I am wondering if the closet sink
he washes in takes the dust,
if charcoal winces being gnawed
down its length, down to nub.
I could spend all day wondering
if emptiness has a limit,
if certainty is a kind of faith
each breath winnows down.
The tulips seem to barely complain,
their martyring perennial, they persist
beyond weather, some belief in light and dirt
that being torn is worth returning.
This must be why again, again,
they keep opening mouths to the sky.

Published on December 19, 2019