by John Ciardi
Once I had 1000 roses.
Literally 1000 roses.
I was working for a florist
back in the shambling ‘Thirties
when iced skids of 250 roses
sold for $2 at Faneuil Hall.
So for $8 I bought
1000 roses, 500
white and 500 red,
for Connie's wedding to steadiness.
I strewed the church aisle whole
and the bride came walking
on roses, roses all the way:
The white roses and the red roses.
White for the bed we had shared.
Red for the bed she went to
from the abundance in her
to the fear in what she wanted.
The gift was not in the roses
but in the abundance of the roses.
whose abundance had never wholly
been mine, and could never be his.
He had no gift of abundance in him
but only the penuries of sobriety.
A good steady clerk, most mortgageable,
returning in creaking shoes over
the white and the red roses. Returning
over the most flowering he would ever
touch, with the most flowering I
had ever touched. A feast of endings.
This morning I passed a pushcart
heaped with white carnations
as high as if there had fallen all night
one of those thick-flaked, slow, windless,
wondering snows that leave
shakos on fence posts, polar bears
in the hedges, caves in the light,
and a childhood on every sill.
Once, twice a year, partially,
and once, twice a lifetime, perfectly,
that snow falls. In which I ran
like a young wolf in its blood
leaping to snap the flower-flakes
clean from the air; their instant on the tongue
flat and almost dusty and not enough
to be cold. But as I ran, face-up,
mouth open, my cheeks burned
with tears and flower-melt,
and my lashes were fringed with gauze,
and my ears wore white piping.
There is no feast but energy. All men
know—have known and will remember
again and again—what food that is
for the running young wolf of the rare days
when shapes fall from the air
and may be had for the leaping.
Clean in the mouth of joy. Flat and dusty.
And how they are instantly nothing—
a commotion in the air and in the blood.
—And how they are endlessly all.
My father's grave, the deepest cave I know,
was banked with snow and lilies. We stuck the dead flowers
into the snow banks dirty with sand
and trampled by digger's boots.
The flowers, stiff and unbeckoning,
ripped from their wires in the wind
and blew their seasons out as snow
Purer than the snow itself. A last
abundance correcting our poverties.
I remember the feasts of my life,
their every flowing. I remember
the wolf all men remember in his blood.
I remember the air become
a feast of flowers. And remember
his last flowers whitening winter
in an imitation of possibility,
while we hunched black
in the dirtied place inside possibility
where the prayers soiled him.
If ever there was a man of abundances
he lies there flowerless
at that dirty center
whose wired flowers try and try
to make the winter clean again in air.
And fail. And leave me raging
as the young wolf grown
from his day's play in abundance
to the ravening of recollection.
Creaking to penury over the flower-strew.
This morning I passed a pushcart
heaped beyond possibility,
as when the sun begins again
after that long snow and the earth
is moonscaped and wonderlanded
and humped and haloed in the
light it makes: an angel
on every garbage can, a god
in every tree, that childhood
on every sill.—At a corner of the ordinary.
Where is she now? Instantly nothing.
A penury after flower-strew. Nothing.
A feast of glimpses. Not fact itself,
but an idea of the possible in the fact.
—And so the rare day comes: I was again
the young wolf trembling in his blood
at the profusions heaped and haloed
in their instant next to the ordinary.
And did not know myself what feast I kept
—till I said your name. At once all plenty was.
It is the words starve us, the act that feeds.
The air trembling with the white wicks
of its falling encloses us. To be
perfect, I suppose, we must be brief.
The long thing is to remember
imperfectly, dirtying with gratitude
the grave of abundance. O flower-banked,
air-dazzling, and abundant woman,
though the young wolf is dead, all men
know—have known and must remember—