Red Poppy

That linkage of warnings sent a tremor through June 
as if to prepare October in the hardest apples. 
One week in late July we held hands 
through the bars of his hospital bed. Our sleep 
made a canopy over us and it seemed I heard 
its durable roaring in the companion sleep 
of what must have been our Bedouin god, and now 
when the poppy lets go I know it is to lay bare 
his thickly seeded black coach
at the pinnacle of dying.

My shaggy ponies heard the shallow snapping of silk 
but grazed on down the hillside, their prayer flags 
tearing at the void-what we
stared into, its cool flux
of blue and white. How just shaking at flies 
they sprinkled the air with the soft unconscious praise 
of bells braided into their manes. My life

simplified to "for him" and his thinned like an injection 
wearing off so the real gave way to
the more-than-real, each moment's carmine 
abundance, furl of reddest petals
lifted from the stalk and no hint of the black 
hussar's hat at the center. By then his breathing stopped 
so gradually I had to brush lips to know
an ending. Tasting then that plush of scarlet 
which is the last of warmth, kissless kiss
he would have given. Mine to extend a lover's right past its radius, 
to give and also most needfully, my gallant hussar, 
to bend and take.

Copyright © 1992 by Tess Gallagher. Reprinted from Moon Crossing Bridge with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota.