Today I want to showcase another group of poems published in the excellent online journal Fringe. Sarah Sarai is a New York poet who recently published the collection The Future is Happy (BlazeVOX). I love the surprising ways flowers appear in her poems:
A Bullish Run into Chambers
When a stranger is killed and laid to rest
at an altar for Public Mass of Remembrance,
African violets torn from a window’s sun
buttery as a tea cookie or rose petal,
prim Queen Anne’s lace for Diana,
buttery herself and silky, a fallen sulky,
for a child we will never meet,
a teenager who standing is caught
in crosshairs of our blood extravaganza,
aren’t we allowed our impersonal grief?
We pay to be hollowed by cinematic gore,
are immunized against capitalism’s rule:
a business must grow. The word was gore,
a bullish run into chambers born bursting
and broke. Along chain-link fences,
at street corners and Buckingham Palace,
wobbly petals mark our bid to be human.
African violets "torn,"
rose petals "buttery,"
Queen Anne's lace, paradoxically, "for Diana."
This last reference speaks so powerfully to me of the streets of London after the death of Princess Diana (which I take to be the occasion for the poem). Madge and I happened to be in London that week in 1997, staying in a B&B in the gay neighborhood of Earl's Court. Even though (or perhaps because) I'm Canadian, I have no real interest in the royal family, so when I had heard about the accident the week before while travelling in Greece, I thought it was sad but it had no personal meaning for me. Not so the gays of Earl's Court. Walking to the tube station, we passed window after window and fence after fence that had been turned into an altar or memorial, strewn not just with flowers (their "wobbly petals," in Sarai's phrase, drifting into piles on the ground as days passed) and pictures of the princess but with personal testimonies. "You visited me in the hospital when my family would not, because I had AIDS." "You came to our fundraiser." "You gave me hope with your kindness and love."
This Diana, beloved AIDS activist and icon of the gay community, had not been quite so visible to me before. I could not help but be moved. So although we had not planned to, Madge and I went to Kensington Palace. Sarah's poem talks about Buckingham Palace, and there were memorials there too, but Kensington was where Diana had lived and Buckingham was the residence of "the estranged queen, keeping mum," as Madge reminded me today. We shared the tube with families dressed in their Sunday best and drag queens equally carefully attired, and paid our respects.