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The Rose Garden

ISSUE:  Summer 1983

Here in the Rose Garden
the roses are arranged by kind,
color, and name,
the hardy hybrid tea
with thick stems and large roses,
the floribunda with thinner stems
and smaller more plentiful roses,
and though the beauty here
is trimmed and labeled
the place itself remains
as free as it ever was,
so I return here
a block from the house
where I was born.


In the spring old people
love to come here.
They waddle slowly
in thick grass
and stoop to smell
a particular favorite.
They may feign disgust
with the couple in the corner
but they can never remember
when the Rose Garden
looked so beautiful.


This is where
when I was eighteen
working as a shoe salesman
I should have wooed
Nadine Rodrigues.
I could have said almost anything,
here with so many roses,
that Nadine would have loved me
and some of my huge urge
would not have turned inward
where it broke like a great wave.


The fierce Chicano boy
from Hoover Junior High
takes notice of the roses
before he pins his girl
in a back corner
in the shade of pine trees,
holds her and makes out
or dry humps
away from the delicate blaze
of roses.


Williams I remember said
you can’t have roses
without thorns.
I have sat here for a day
torn open by thorns.
I have sat here for a day
and left completely healed.


Terri, Ben, and I
played hide and seek
here, knew which
rows would hide us,
or in winter would crawl down
into the empty fountain.
I once climbed a thick
squat pine and hid
so well they gave up
and forgot me.
I don’t know
what I thought of
clinging to the sharp bark
of the limb that hid me.


In the shade away from
a row of yellow roses,
Apollo, a hybrid tea,
two girls who have escaped
the junior high sit
and teach each other
how to make up their faces,
a bit of red spread
over the cheek bones,
a thin black line drawn along
each eyelid. Their backs
to the roses, in secret,
they laugh and pass a joint,
they watch the small mirror
fall between them.


What the child points to
the mother ignores.
Three children are
too many to watch.


My wife Jane, her sister Yalonda
and I come here for a break
between visiting my grandma Fanya,
sharp, alert, proverbial,
and my great-aunt Sonia
who smokes and wanders
a prisoner in her own apart-
ment. She complains
about a feeling:
everything she sees,
everything that happens
has already happened.
Her psoriasis spreads
great rosy sores
all over her body
and she can’t sleep
for more than
a couple of hours,
only to wake into
that stale repetitive air.
So before we see her,
Jane, Lonnie, and I
walk around in the Rose Garden
on a bright day
and each pick the rose
we want on our grave.


It was Lorca who said:
“The rose
was not looking for the sunrise:
almost eternal on its branch,
it was looking for something else.”


I would like to say
some kind of god
lingers here, can be found
in a dark, perfect rose,
that a spirit has watched
me here since infancy,
as I lay in the shade
unable to lift my head,
or now, as I look
from rose to rose
for a clue, some
shape or presence
I can call “you” and sing to.


One man, middle-aged,
carries a silver briefcase
and sets up his expensive
camera and tripod
and in his own mechanical
way courts the rose
of his choice,
stalks after her
for the perfect click
that will expose at once
the sudden beauty
of the open rose.


Browsing through the flowers
as if they were shopping for something,
the middle-aged couple stops.
She is fat and stands
with a hand on her hip,
head cocked studying a rose,
and he, wiry, watches too
but in a way that gave up
full alertness some time ago.
Though for that moment
they are as natural as two sea otter
poking through a kelp bed
to nuzzle in a fountain of sunlight.


Now I am walking through
not roses but so many
names: Electron, Apollo,
Otto Miller, and Louisiana,
Bewitched, Will Rogers,
and Rose Marmalade,
the floribunda Happy Talk,
and hybrid tea Snow Fire,
the variety of names
with bright open throats
as dazzling as
the actual flame of roses,
Aztec, Oklahoma,
Plain Talk,
and Jamaica.


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