Sheila Squillante

My father loved petunias,

my mother tells me.

I don’t recall him enjoying

them but I’m not saying

I doubt her, either.

There are so many things

I will never know.

My father loved peonies,

my mother doesn’t need

to remind me. I remember

the black ants pouring

thick off sweet pink petals,

how I called what happened

to his brain a tumor

because it was easier

than explaining how

the mind can swirl

and swell.

My father’s petunias,

purple this year, spill

over their own green bodies.

My mother taught me

to dead-head, pinch

and pluck just below

the bud so they grow

stronger, reserve

their strength

and stay contained.

But one day I stopped

tending the spent bits.

I got busy and let them

go. Exactly the way

twenty-four years

of gone has seeded

itself into my dailiness,

until suddenly I’m shocked

by dry soil and woody stems,

blossoms barely hanging on.

And by then, it’s too late

to do much except

lament. I called what grew

inside my father’s skull

a peony, pink and bursting,

early up and quick to succumb

to heat and hardier blooms

like petunias, yes, but irises,

too. Those have always been

my favorite. Indigo spike

straight up and piercing

through. I like the sword

metaphor. I plant them

when I remember next

to the crumbling steps.

They spread rhizomatically,

reaching outward, always,

beneath everything else

this garden may give.

about the author