Hotbed 66

They tell me that she spent her days staring at the eyes of peonies, the fragile skin of day lilies, the open mouths of daffodils, the waxy and waning winks and pinks of peace lilies. I’m telling you this woman knew flowers. They say she was driving to work when she saw him, or did they say she was delivering a bouquet of fresh cut flowers to someone on their birthday, or had just come from the door of some sweet couple’s fiftieth anniversary? I can’t remember all of that right now. All I can think about is what she must have known about flowers before this moment began. I know she was a woman out on the road driving and paying very close attention to the world around her. She was also a woman who did not look away when she saw his soup-bowl haircut pass by one lane over. Was his upside-down empty vase of a neck the giveaway? In the car that was not going too fast and not going too slow. In the car that had a backseat. Was the backseat where he put the gun that he had just used to kill the nine praying sunflowers of Mother Emanuel? Or was the gun there in the front seat with him? By then, back in Charleston the nine passion flowers were slumped on the basement floor inside the church. The nine calla lilies had been snapped in two. She saw his funny haircut and quickly recognized him as the one who had just taken the lives of the nine human beings, in mid and full bloom, who had welcomed him, called him son, invited him to sit and be with them in the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost. Ten fragrant gardenias had welcomed him to their circle and the flower lady was the one who recognized the long flowerless vase of his neck and made the call. What did she say on that phone? Hello. I’m calling to report a sighting. That young man you are looking for . . . who shot up that church . . . he’s here on the highway with me . . . a black Hyundai. I know it’s him, he’s covered, head to toe, in pollen. 

From Love Child’s Hotbed of Occasional Poetry (Northwestern University Press, 2020) by Nikky Finney. Copyright © 2020 by Nikky Finney. Used with the permission of Northwestern University Press.