Tulips - Anne Stevenson
For my birthday you've brought me tulips.
I want them to fan from a low vase.
This green and white one with a cracked glaze
almost the shape of a bulb looks right.
Tulips were bursting from that same pot
on the same day in New York...maybe 1958.
Twenty-five tulips instead of twenty-five candles,
and we dined by tulip light.
There is always another war, but
thee tall disciplined redcoats
have lost the battle.
Cut down, shipped alive into exile,
for nearly a week they bleed upright.
Two artists: this one, who catches
the incendiary character of tulips
with daring panache.
Now this one, who uses his brush
like hawks' eyesight.
When Nerys in her wheelchair painted tulips
they were strawberry-coloured, like her hair.
She gave them a life far longer
than the one life gave her.
When 'nature imitates art', nature
sometimes loses the fight.
Old tulips, getting ready to die,
swan on their wondering necks away
from their source in mother water,
obsessed with an airy faith in light.
These sad women in mauve - making up for
painted wrinkles with pinker hair -
drunkenly spill themselves over the bar.
Lips, lips, without love or appetite.
But look. At the core of each flower,
a black star,
a hope-pod, a love-seed
the seminal colour of night.
(Remembering Nerys Johnson, painter)