How Can Black People Write About Flowers at a Time Like This

Hanif Abdurraqib


I knew not by the way I watched the cardinal kiss the sticky neck of the ash tree from my window,
which had yet to become our window on a morning I did not wake you due to how the time bends

forward around the parts of a country which keeps us
apart & I suppose I should have known by this but did not.

how, between us, I have always been the one able to see the future
& have still loved you in every version of it & I should have known

by you in the car & singing with the windows up & the highway’s growl
sharp enough to drown out the lift of your voice. how you get a lyric wrong

& in my head, I rewrite the song to whatever you have newly determined
it to be & I did not know by how you rolled over right as the cardinal – covered

in the ruins of its labor – drifted away, the tree newly naked & stripped
to its barest layer. I only knew when thinking of Gram Parsons

& how a suit was sewn for him when he was 21 & on the suit there were bursts of red
poppy flowers & how the resin from the pod of the poppy makes morphine

possible & how Gram Parsons sat underneath a dark sky at Joshua Tree
when he was 26 & how he had been clean for months but wanted to see the stars

puff out their round cheeks over the sand which, at that hour, must have looked like pearls
& I do not need to tell you that he did not survive the night, or the morphine injected

into him & to adorn yourself in the tools of your eventual undoing is not by itself romance
& to wear your demise across your own shoulders is not romance. but, like the poppy,

I have become something more dangerous than I was once
& this is how I have learned my heart’s worst fears.

each small misery could be something which takes us away from each other.
I knew this way, too. I have dreams about planes crashing & houses on fire

& in the dream I am both the watcher & the sufferer. It can be said that this is love.
to imagine all of the worst separations. Forgive me. I am being too literal again,

which all of my most attractive friends say is not romantic. let me try something
else. love is not the drug itself but is the fluorescent palm which splits the earth

in the name of its blooming. not the drug, but the object so beautiful it demands
to be stitched into something which the body can consume.

or, here. what I meant to say when I could not bring myself to wake you.
I imagine the cardinal tears away the layers of that which holds it up to ensure everything

underneath is real. you leave and atop my sink a makeup remover holds a memory
of you & the toothbrush dripping the small pond into a contour of porcelain

holds a memory of you & the mug on the table with the stain of lipstick shaped
like the crescent of a blood moon holds a memory of you & I am sorry I couldn’t do this

without talking about the dead & the songs they wrote. Gram Parsons had his body
set on fire at Joshua Tree & today people say the ashes still blow into their hair

& their eyes & god, what a miracle. all I have been trying to say is this:
may even the residue of our love find a curve of wind to dance an echo into.