During the war, women hid messages
   inside white flowers
tucked in their hair. They crossed
   enemy lines, slipped the blossoms
into soldiers’ fists. What might
   have been a child’s crown
for her communion, an offering
   at a grave, might win the war.
The ovule, the style, the stigma—
   what seemed to unfurl overnight
took weeks, even years.
   Dream your hand plucks the bloom,
its widest petals like porcelain,
   and a halo of bees skims your arms.
Upon waking, walk to the docks,
   the bloom heavy behind your ear,
and breathe in its sweet persistence,
   its scent of sea salt and gutted fish.


Copyright © 2019 by Helena Mesa. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 9, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“When reading about José Martí, I stumbled across a quick detail—a side note, really—about women hiding messages in flowers and carrying those secret messages across enemy lines during the Cuban War of Independence. Though brief and marginal, the legend struck me. I heard my mother’s voice asserting her love of the mariposa (a white garland-lily), and in my imagining of the unsubstantiated story I hear notes of rebellion, of resistance, of beauty, of risk—all of which resonate with me as I read the daily news reports.”
Helena Mesa