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Through Poem-a-Day, we present original, previously unpublished poems by our country's most talented poets throughout the week and classic poems on the weekends. 

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Elegy Composed in the New York Botanical Garden

About this Poem 

“The first draft of this poem was written when a herd of Kundiman fellows was released into the New York Botanical Garden and told to gather poems. We hear often that poetry is not nonfiction—that poems are allowed to bend reality as they’re led—but what troubles me most about this poem is that I don’t remember whether the flowers outside that home were, in fact, daffodils.”
—Eugenia Leigh

Elegy Composed in the New York Botanical Garden

Eugenia Leigh

Catmint—tubular, lavender, an ointment
to blur the scar, bloom the skin. My mouth has begun
the hunt for words that heal.

In the garden, I am startled by a cluster
of sun-colored petals marked, Radiation.
Piles of radiation. Orange radiation, huddled together

like families bound by a hospital-bright morning.
And behind them: a force of yuccas
called Golden Swords. A bush or mound

of sheath-like leaves sprouting from a proud center.
And isn’t that the plot?
First the radiation, then the golden sword.

I remember, incurably,
your mother. The laughter that flowered
from her lips. I’m sorry I have no good words

to honor her war. It crumbled me to watch you
overwhelmed by her face
in the daffodils outside your childhood home.