Flowers in Translation
The beautiful saints held lilies;
preserved by death, plaster, paint or, most precious,
stamped into metal and tied with ribbon around your neck,
those dewy-eyed paragons were our celebrities
and the arum their emblem.
Meditation on those callas teased you towards your end,
so poisonous you ran past their waxy beauty
lurking by the swamp, but
you could not stop yourself imagining
crunching up their bitter, carroty hearts.
You held your breath past the pampas we called toetoe,
as inhalation of their fluffy dust
might clog your lungs and
leave you too breathless to slide over the quicksand
as you prayed the tiger wave would not strike today.
Kowhai grew by the veranda steps,
you plucked golden petals from a flower in one
to drink liquid honey from the fairy cup left behind;
only now you learn of its deadly properties, the explanation
for those unexpected encounters with the dark terror of the night.
Pohutukawa were the colour of Christmas,
red against green, abundant
as befits the season of over-indulgence,
they cost us nothing so
we had no understanding of our wealth.
Violets are what devoted daughters give their mothers,
you looked but never found one, until back in England; and
on that morning, closing her door behind you for the last time,
they had pushed through the chill February earth, and
you drove past her childhood fields that once had been
filled with the promise of buttercup summers.