Orange is the single-hearted color. I remember How I found them in a vein beside the railroad, A bumble-bee fumbling for a foothold While the poppies' petals flagged beneath his boot. I brought three poppies home and two buds still sheathed. I amputated them above the root. They lived on artlessly Beside the window for a while, blazing orange, bearing me No malice. Each four-fanned surface opened To the light. They were bright as any orange grove. I watched them day and night stretch open and tuck shut With no roots to grip, like laboratory frogs' legs twitching Or like red beheaded hens still hopping on sheer nerves. On the third afternoon one bud tore off its green glove And burst out brazen as Baby New Year. Two other poppies dropped their petals, leaving four Scribbly yellow streamers on a purple-brimmed and green Conical cadaver like a New Year's hat. I'd meant to celebrate with them, but they seemed So suddenly tired, these aging ladies in crocheted Shawl leaves. They'd once been golden as the streets Of heaven, now they were as hollow. They couldn't pull together for a last good-bye. I had outlived them and had only their letters to read, Fallen around the vase, saying they were sorry.
From Elegies for the Hot Season by Sandra McPherson. Copyright © 1970 by Sandra McPherson. First published by The Ecco Press in 1982. Reprinted by permission.