Sina Queyras: Tulips


The tulips are not lovely, they make me cry, they are
Excitable, willing, complicit: they will never fly.
They begin so prim, they turn and stare, then settle
In and suck my good air. I think they slipped in
Between the nurses sailing by my bouquet-bright harem
Festooned room and now wild tulips from Syria
And Persia swoon.

They are servants of mood, descendants of the fifty
Thousand sent as a gift to Turkey where a Sultan tamed
The small explosions so central to the pleasure gardens.
The tulips swan my fears, they mock my tears, giggle
And preen across the sheers where the variegated
Parrot reigns over lesser varieties whose sculpt and sheen
Are nonetheless honeyed bright apples I cannot bite.

I hear the Sultan crammed his pipe—a stem of some long
Tulip—full of fat red bores—the kind that drove you
Out of London, though not the ambition out of you—not even
Death could achieve that. Listen, these sheets cocoon me
Hour after hour, the sun is a yowl, I turn in my salt water,
Float toward tulip light, not a tunnel I like;
I do not trust their brightness.

The stamen is a small lens that watches me writhe.
I want out of this vase; I am always drawing the Ace of Cups,
I am always a vessel overflowing. Amy Lowell insists,
Even before they shatter the earth in spring the air smells
Of tulips, but the tulip is scentless, the tulip is all colour
And cower. That spring in Devon a rare American Cardinal
Darted past like a tulip to nail the green day down.

On the plateau dirty tulips stream by, barely upright, drunk
With warmth and swaying like alley cats. There,
A single sultry early red pants against a wall, so much
Need to feed a crisp stem whose gnarled petals clench
In a late frost. These tulips crinkle loudly in their plastic
Wrap but once in water unclench ten angry
Fists wanting more, more, more!

Blooms are bestowed with no formality
But the laurel festers. Why do prizes come in spring?
They swab me clean of pride, my bottom up in the air,
Take me, it says, pushing against the gatekeepers gate,
Take me! Still, these tulips make the other me want
To see: we stretch our fingers up, up, into
The bullet holes above the bed.

As for scent, I can barely breathe for spring
And all. The tulip’s redness brings me numbness
In bright needles, talks rudely to my wound, heavy
As lead in my dressing room. Is it only we poets,
Who bless our ravished sight to see such order
From confusion sprung, such gaudy tulips
Raised from dung?

How eloquent our sex is, and how easily placated
Our mothers were; a vase, some verse, voila.
What, the young women ask, what has the tulip
To do with us? How do we think about the tulip?
What do the tulips want of us? Do they believe
Women? Are they determined? How
Does a tulip show it is determined?

If the tulips have emerged from heaven’s side door
Which planet is it they are marching to, or for?
Now crow flaps past the window and once again
A whiff of bright light. Just before the tulips crossed
Their legs sun lay across my desk like bands of grass
Bobbing on tulip flesh, down, down, down below
The hum of an insect chorus.

Who smells so much like lies as the tulip?
I think the tulips all have Assia’s eyes.
They haunt me. They
make me faint.
Recall with envy the faces of all the tulips Ted
Has touched.
I am no saint, no bleeding
Heart; like David I hide my desire under the blanket,
But my pride parades, swollen, angry, red.

Who slipped in through my bureau of linen?
Who through the iron bars of my garden gate?
Who flew off in the eye of Raven? Who
With my health tucked in his breast, stole north?
Tell me, why did only some of the tulips leap?
Why are all the bad tulips expelled
From the garden? Where do they go?

Sina Queyras is the author of Lemon Hound, Expressway and MxT, all from Coach House Books. My Ariel will be published in September 2017. She is the editor of Lemonhound. You can follow her on Twitter.