Peonies

Stephanie Burt

        Yes, another
poem about flowers and kids. Our son
thinks this one is a ball,
or full of balls: like jesters’ caps with bells,
one for each stem, or old pawnbrokers’ signs,
the lot next door in rainy April weather
dangles, and then in sunlight lifts, what he
believes he ought to pluck and grasp and throw,

if we would let him. Little does he know
how each bud, given cues
from symbiotic ants, will open up
pink surface after surface, flagrant scraps
of incandescent fabric coming loose
like grown-ups’ lives or last month’s local news,
like promises, or generosity,
or overuse. So soon it isn’t fair,

what he could take in his small fist all spring
and shake in anger when we told him no –
that is, don’t touch them – nods, and will agree
to share its colours: still unravelling,
curled up against its core,
each of the heavy flowers starts to be
a casualty of gravity, so low
it looks ashamed, as if the earth expected more.