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Violets

By Patrick Rosal

A brisk sunset walk home: Lafayette Ave.
After weeks straight of triple layers
and double gloves, the day has inched
enough out of the freeze that I get around
just fine without my hands jammed
in my pockets and my eyes half shut
against the cold. I switchback real quick
and yank a twig jutting out from a trash can
just for kicks. I get going again, swinging the stick
as if I’m conducting this miserable choir
of pigeons at my feet. A good block to go,
I’m about to pick up the pace when I catch
a small flash of dusk out the corner of my eye,
not from the skyline but from the bit of branch
I’m holding—another violet’s just sprouted
from my fist, a small flash of welts, a cluster
of indigo, a smack of dark lilac…which seems
to happen lately in every season. Matter of fact,
sometimes I look down the street and violets
are spilling out the doors, down the stoops,
into corners and lots. They are pooling at every curb
and mothers hang their heads out the windows
in horror. I carry the violets one by one inside
my apartment. I head straight to my kitchen
and lift the blossom to the light, roots and all,
shaking dirt loose to take a good long look
at these squares of Jesus-purple. I hold it
to my nose, say grace, and clamp my lips down
to pop a petal free. I close my mouth around it,
I pull it onto my tongue to feel its cool silk
and push it against my teeth. I chew
and chew some more and I say why not,
for we live in the ongoing American epoch
in which a man can shoot a child in the eye
or back and not be convicted of murder.
Who’s got what magic now? Most days I am one
of the hundred million who just watches
the violets multiply. Then some nights,
I sit in my kitchen eating this one perfect flower.
Stupid, I know. But I’ve held things in my mouth
with more sugar and felt less blessed.
If you want to know, this violet tastes
of the slightly rotten whiff of a late April rain,
the muddy musk of old piano keys,
a dusty box emptied of nickel casings
and old colognes. It tastes a lot like
the small twitch of fog my breath makes
against my lover’s belly. This flower
in case you’ve forgotten has sprouted
from my own fingers, maybe even deeper—
my liver, my spleen. Turns out,
rage is a flower like this one, like
that one, like this. My body’s
the right mulch for it. Sometimes
a man is only as lucky as his hands.

Added: Friday, September 23, 2016  /  From "Brooklyn Antediluvian" (Persea Books, 2016). Used with permission.
Patrick Rosal
Photo by Mark Rosal.

Patrick Rosal is the author of four full-length poetry collections. His newest book, Brooklyn Antediluvian, was called by Publisher's Weekly "an earth-shattering performance." Patricia Smith says of the collection, "The poet's wide-aloud love song to New York's most boisterous borough is a deftly-crafted tour-de-force, a sleek melding of lyric and unflinching light." He also is the author of Boneshepherds, My American Kundiman, and Uprock Headspin Scramble and Dive. His collections have been honored with the Association of Asian American Studies Book Award, Global Filipino Literary Award and the Asian American Writers Workshop Members' Choice Award.

Other poems by this author