On Floriography

If you often find yourself at a loss for words
or don’t know what to say to those you love,
just extract poetry out of poverty, this dystopia
                            of civilization rendered fragrant,
             blossoming onto star-blue fields of loosestrife,
heady spools of spike lavender, of edible clover
                            beckoning to say without bruising
a jot of dog’s tooth violet, a nib of larkspur notes,
                        or the day’s perfumed reports of indigo
                                in the gloaming—
              what to say to those
                           whom you love in this world?
Use floriography, or as the flower-sellers put it,
Say it with flowers.
—Indigo, larkspur, star-blue, my dear.

More by Karen An-Hwei Lee

Dear Millennium, On the Angel of Immigration

In the bronze skin of your rain-mottled angel of immigration
who looks forward 
                          with a faux diamond clasp 
               of upward mobility on her watery clavicle, 
                                       inner rain called mizzle is shining— 
a frayed chrome-polishing 
                                        rag on a bicycle while the fig tree 
loses its foliage due to a blight called rust. Dear millennium, 
                           destined to be a girl, 
an artist not engineer, 
you’ve never fallen in love. (Do you even believe?) Centuries, 
                                                 this peace offering— 
a non-fruiting olive 
                                  transplanted 
                                       after your lavender died of root-rot 
                            on a winter afternoon in the north. 
(Day after a sea storm, holy 
and granular— 
             bayside hailing clean off the rim, napthlalene 
                                         stored in mothless boxes of air, 
of agelessness, hybrid tea-roses, and rocket fuel.) 
                           Ear-shaped, honey-combed morels 
flourish by the rosemary, edible yet uneaten— 
                                       dearly so, as evidence 
of a battered dictionary you once loved, too. (Light-drenched sea, 
             all its charismatic splendor, is a room 
                                                          of meticulous self-reform, 
                                       noxious blue-eyed madness 
of the dead.) For this reason, your ancestors 
                         wished to sail on a ship around a landform 
              to its southernmost point (Dear millennium, what we loved 
                          is written tenderly in the dregs of the earth.) 
Dear millennium, see how immigrants 
                         yearn for departure not extravagance, 
freedom with a notion of rootedness 
                                       or nesting. 
In doing so, this generational reimagining, dear millennium— 
you are cured of nothing 
                                       yet everything at once.

Dear Millennium, Inadequate Witness

Say we no longer bear witness to a body-politic of trauma
after revolution
                by anesthesia or erasure. Say we cover our eyes 
to crossed olive-wood beams on a hill.  Modes of witness   
expose our inadequacy, the human.  Forgetting
is a sign—yes, a thing once existed. Say we are unworthy
of witness, internal or external—
                         our damaged wisdom, for instance,
our diminished capacity for empathy
             and heightened apathy to torture
mingled with doves     
                      of unfettered desire
                                         or an eclipsed divine.

Related Poems

The Peddler of Flowers

I came from the country
With flowers,
Larkspur and roses,
Fretted lilies
In their leaves,
And long, cool lavender.

I carried them
From house to house,
And cried them
Down hot streets.
The sun fell
Upon my flowers,
And the dust of the streets
Blew over my basket.

That night
I slept upon the open seats
Of a circus,
Where all day long
People had watched
The antics
Of a painted clown.

Orchids Are Sprouting From the Floorboards

Orchids are sprouting from the floorboards. 
Orchids are gushing out from the faucets. 
The cat mews orchids from his mouth. 
His whiskers are also orchids.
The grass is sprouting orchids. 
It is becoming mostly orchids. 
The trees are filled with orchids. 
The tire swing is twirling with orchids. 
The sunlight on the wet cement is a white orchid.
The car’s tires leave a trail of orchids. 
A bouquet of orchids lifts from its tailpipe.
Teenagers are texting each other pictures 
of orchids on their phones, which are also orchids. 
Old men in orchid penny loafers 
furiously trade orchids. 
Mothers fill bottles with warm orchids 
to feed their infants, who are orchids themselves. 
Their coos are a kind of orchid. 
The clouds are all orchids. 
They are raining orchids. 
The walls are all orchids, 
the teapot is an orchid, 
the blank easel is an orchid, 
and this cold is an orchid. Oh,
Lydia, we miss you terribly.     

Drifting Flowers of the Sea

Across the dunes, in the waning light,
The rising moon pours her amber rays,
Through the slumbrous air of the dim, brown night
The pungent smell of the seaweed strays—
     From vast and trackless spaces
       Where wind and water meet,
         White flowers, that rise from the sleepless deep,
             Come drifting to my feet.
     They flutter the shore in a drowsy tune,
       Unfurl their bloom to the lightlorn sky,
         Allow a caress to the rising moon,
             Then fall to slumber, and fade, and die.

White flowers, a-bloom on the vagrant deep,
Like dreams of love, rising out of sleep,
You are the songs, I dreamt but never sung,
Pale hopes my thoughts alone have known,
Vain words ne’er uttered, though on the tongue,
That winds to the sibilant seas have blown.
      In you, I see the everlasting drift of years
        That will endure all sorrows, smiles and tears;
          For when the bell of time will ring the doom
            To all the follies of the human race,
               You still will rise in fugitive bloom
                  And garland the shores of ruined space.