I guess I look ridiculous to the neighbors as they pass by,
Lying on the ground, staring up at the sky,
My head underneath a tangle of rose-tree branches –
“Canes” as true rose aficionados technically call
These black, stark, angular arthritic knuckles that
One must only ever touch with thick canvas gloves,
Lest a thorn – whose name is “Legion”, for they are many here –
Pierce tender flesh, draw blood, draw curse, and spoil
One’s romantic meditations on rose-hood, substituting
Instead an insidious intuition of hidden harm,
Of treacherous mendacity masquerading as sweetness, as softness.
But I guess my neighbors, or anyway, those who took a second
Glance, would understand, would understand when they saw
The gloves, the old straw hat, the gardening shears – though the posture would still mystify.
They would understand that, also, were they to join me here on the ground,
Which they would be welcome to do, were any not averse to such loss of dignity.
They would understand that, while seeing thorns is easy from a more
Dignified position, that the seeing of rosebuds is best done from a position
Lower down, closer to the earth, preferably upside down, a form of self-humiliation,
Like St. Peter crucified in Rome.
So here I lie.
Clouds drift by, cotton tufts caught in the brutal lattice of cane and thorn,
Sky fractured into azure plates by crooked black boundaries swept by wind.
Eyes drift from cane to cane, eclipsing sun, finally alighting on a single rosebud,
The first of an early spring, unexpected, dew-drop catching sunfire in a
Glissando of color … well worth waiting for; well worth a little lumbar pain
Heralding youth as well as age. Oh, the thorns are still there, observable
From any angle. Never fear.
But rosebuds are best seen from below, from a less exalted, less dignified
Vantage that invites the baptism of dew on forehead, of light in eye.
– James Cowels
© 2011, poem, James Cowels, All rights reserved; 2015, photograph, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved