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Honored that the editors of Leveler have selected my poem “The peony” for publication. Each poem they choose is featured for a week along with the editors’ comments in a section they call levelheaded. The poet rarely gets to hear what the editors are thinking, so this is a bonus, to say nothing of the considerable extra effort undertaken. Thank you, Leveler!

found poem: as if

found poem: gray

there is all this…

pink tree peony with raindrops
…a whisper of rain on the roof; spruce aglow with furry new growth; red rhododendron in full fanfare, visible from four blocks away; rain-drenched wood fence the perfect backdrop for every spring color; dogwood barking pink, pink, pink, pink; crabapple’s spill of cerise petals on the patio; a single sparrow whose plangent serenade from the top of the smoke tree persists through every hour of daylight; the blizzard of white plum blossoms now turned to fruit the size and shape of a grain of rice; an evening rainbow against a charcoal sky; the fragrance of turned soil; a neighborhood walk at dusk revealing a chorus—hundreds, perhaps—of frogs, heard but unseen in a backyard pond behind a hedge; raindrops pearling on blue-green hosta leaves; three pale blooms on the tree peony, each wrapping a luscious confection of pollen; the long, long twilight of spring…

Mother’s Day…

Mother's Day tree peony

My mother’s birthday was at the end of May. One year, in honor of the date, a cousin gave her a cymbidium orchid plant. Thereafter, year after year, for decades, the plant would send out a long dull green flower stalk that would bloom, unfailingly, gorgeously, on Mother’s Day.

In my back yard, looking like a twisted stick for half the year, the tree peony never seems like it’s going to do much. Yet, except for last year, when it was too winter-battered to bloom, two small buds reliably unfurl into blowsy blooms just in time for Mother’s Day, pale pink paper-thin petals cupping a jeweled center to dazzle daughters, bees and hummingbirds for a brief May day, then droop and drop, to begin the long preparation for next year’s holiday.

Happy Mother’s Day.


Sicilian Honey Lily, allium siculumLandmarks of late spring: an embarrassment of peonies; the first iris buds chest-high and white amidst green blades; a drift of grassy allium beneath the plum tree; clusters of blossoms thickening into apples; a single yellow bearded iris; at the margin of the vegetable garden, the snaky stems and drooping flowers of the Sicilian Honey Lily; and everywhere, the papery disks of elm pods released as confetti in yesterday’s heat.

A bird trills an unfamiliar song into the dawn, calling me into the morning.

morning light…

Still morning, gray and quiet but for the circus of color on the ground — sprouting, greening, emphatic and alive. The peony, with its impossible pinky-red blooms, fat and faintly fragrant. Rhodies, unthrifty thrift, a pair of white tulips still hanging on long after the others have finished. Tight knots of bearded iris among their celadon swords. Peas and favas reaching toward the hoped-for sun, kale waving its tall yellow flower fronds across a pair of beds to seed the summer. And here and there in the soil, a neat lozenge: the doe’s browsing step.

the air is green with spring…

peony buds
Gulls shout and whine into the light. Damp-earth smell of the recent soaking. In every square foot, spring is an event: sprouting, leafing, blooming, healing over winter’s wounds. Squat balsam fir newly polka-dotted with pale green balls on each of its spiky fronds. Clenched curls of pea leaves drawn upward by the alchemy of heat and light. Peonies round and full of promise as adolescent girls in their too-tight matching jackets.

peony prayers…

peony leaf buds
The peonies, barely an inch above the soil, look like so many praying hands. And certainly there’s much to pray about. Disaster and despotism, intolerance and greed, our essential human need to believe in — and convince others of — our own rightness.

But what does a peony pray? To grow protected from ruinous teeth and feet, free of blight and blotch, wilt and scale, thrip and gall, to bloom full under warm sun and gentle breezes then to hunker down beneath the winter’s chilling and wake again in spring.

A modest enough prayer for anyone, I suppose.

signs of spring…

peony buds The extravagant peony, with her rosy fragrance and lavish magenta flowers the size of cantaloupes, begins as a modest furl pushing through the sodden earth, the tumbled bark, the sere sheared stalks of last year’s leaves.

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