We walk past Central Park West and 86th Street, 
where I spy bushes of hydrangeas with heads
the size of a mop’s bouffant fringe. I have never 
seen a blue so showy in its bright bewilderment.

Beside me: The man who loops his right arm 
inside my left—two broken halves of a hope-drunk 
heart. Those are my kin, I tell him, my kind of flowers. 
He unhooks his heart-half to snap a pic of petals

with his First Generation iPhone, enters it in
the Google Machine, which spits out an identity: 
“Hydrangea macrophylla, a deciduous shrub, 
commonly referred to as bigleaf hydrangea.”

When he first asked what type of flowers
I liked, I remarked how no one had ever proposed 
that kind of offering. I knew he liked being first
at everything, devoted to winning, looked for 
challenges by placing bets on himself versus

the rest of the universe, or just me.
Stay ready  so you ain’t got to get       ready,
his father taught him, was a Black man’s mantra. 
His father died at 45 from a heart attack, stressed.

Roses, I said were cliché. Carnations, pedestrian. 
And every time I saw a lily, I thought of Easter, 
which meant I couldn’t see them without
the blood. Everything plucked from the earth

is dead already. We gift bouquets of small deaths 
to our beloveds as expressions of our undying 
affections, and isn’t that ironic? The type of flower 
I wanted was still attached to her roots and alive.

I didn’t say that. I’d been raised to pick my battles, 
not flowers, which meant I’d been bred to lie.
My Black mother said, I didn’t have      the money
to take your father        to child support court,

which I knew meant, I didn’t have        the heart. 
And maybe that’s why hers is still beating,
knowing some betrayals cheat you from 
preparing for them. Google told us more:

“Flower color can be determined by the relative 
acidity of soil. The ability to blue or pink
a hydrangea is also influenced by the cultivar.”
I thought about our sets of parents, each of us

with one gone, but mine not dead, each parent 
who sweetened or soured our soil, adjusted our 
pH, cultivated and crafted our ability to be blued 
or pinked. The man who would, years later,

become my ex, after efforting toward what was 
unnatural to each of us, preferred the rosy-hued 
petals for their contrast against the deep green
swell of leaves, as if burning, like him, from audacity.

I recognized periwinkle melancholy, how clusters 
were vessels that carried enough water to submerge 
the whole damn street, sink an entire generation, 
but chose, instead, like my mother, to hold it.

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Autumn 2023

Issue 106

The Autumn 2023 issue includes four new poems by featured author Michael Hofmann, as well as new work by Rowan Ricardo Phillips, Monica Youn, Luke Kennard, Glyn Maxwell, Cindy Juyoung Ok, Jesse Nathan, and leena aboutaleb. Also in the issue are poems originally written in Arabic, Czech, Greek, Nüshu, and Spanish, among which a long-awaited fresh take on ‘The Hanging Poem of Imru al-Qays’ by Kareem James Abu-Zeid and five new poems by Homero Aridjis as translated by Forrest Gander. This bumper issue also introduces an expanded offering of prose with Dan O’Brien on the defiant and redemptive power of confessional writing and Rachel Hadas on translating Ovid and finding comfort in a world plagued by apathy and disaster. Our interviews section sees Kostya Tsolakis in conversation with Harris Otabasis and Nikolas Koutsodontis, the editors of the Anthology of Greek Queer Poetry, while Sohini Basak interviews Meena Kandasamy. The reviews section sports criticism by Tarn MacArthur, Aliyah Begum, Lily McDermott, and Tristram Fane Saunders.
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