Scarlet Tongues of Flame

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Scarlet Tongues of Flame

At middle-age, my father planted roses—
the man who never painted or patched, satisfied
with the leaky roof and white siding grown green

with time. He broke ground in early spring,
not long after mom found his truck grafted
to the weedy shadows of a woman’s house in town.

I remember the day the mail-order roses
arrived. My father sifted the thick-caned,
dormant plants from the damp wood shavings

in which they were packed—Double Delight,
Pilgrim or Prince, Wandering Star, Eden’s
Peace, and Scarlet Tongues of Flame.

On planting day, dad plowed the sunny
plot with a new tiller—muscling the straining
machine like a wild horse he could not quite

control. By summer, the leafed-out, stubby
stems rendered their first true buds—small, tight
fists of color. Yellow, white, pink, cream,

and red ellipses hovering in the stifling heat.
Some summer nights, he walked the blooming
rows, wrapped in the aloof company of roses

while we ate or slept, every cupped and knotted
bud rising like secret love or thorny questions
whose answers slowly unfurl. I wish

I could see him now—standing in the tilled plot,
staring down passionately perfumed rows, searching
for hidden flowers in the moon-softened dark,

but finding, I hope, what comforts beauty bestows
in the place of the rose, what deep-seated truths
crown in the petal-cloaked heart of the rose.