Red Poppy

By Tess Gallagher b. 1943 Tess Gallagher
That linkage of warnings sent a tremor through June
as if to prepare October in the hardest apples.
One week in late July we held hands
through the bars of his hospital bed. Our sleep
made a canopy over us and it seemed I heard
its durable roaring in the companion sleep
of what must have been our Bedouin god, and now
when the poppy lets go I know it is to lay bare
his thickly seeded black coach
at the pinnacle of dying.
 
My shaggy ponies heard the shallow snapping of silk
but grazed on down the hillside, their prayer flags
tearing at the void—what we
stared into, its cool flux
of blue and white. How just shaking at flies
they sprinkled the air with the soft unconscious praise
of bells braided into their manes. My life
 
simplified to “for him” and his thinned like an injection
wearing off so the real gave way to
the more-than-real, each moment’s carmine
abundance, furl of reddest petals
lifted from the stalk and no hint of the black
hussar’s hat at the center. By then his breathing stopped
so gradually I had to brush lips to know
an ending. Tasting then that plush of scarlet
which is the last of warmth, kissless kiss
he would have given. Mine to extend a lover’s right past its radius,
to give and also most needfully, my gallant hussar,
to bend and take.

Tess Gallagher, “Red Poppy” from Moon Crossing Bridge. Copyright © 1992 by Tess Gallagher. Reprinted by permission of Graywolf Press, www.graywolfpress.org

Source: Moon Crossing Bridge (Graywolf Press, 1992)

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Poet Tess Gallagher b. 1943

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

Subjects Living, Health & Illness, Death, The Body, Nature, Trees & Flowers, Animals, Love

Poetic Terms Free Verse, Metaphor

 Tess  Gallagher

Biography

Poet, essayist, and short story writer Tess Gallagher was born in 1943 in Port Angeles, Washington, to a logging family. Her early years were marked by the rhythms of seasonal work, as well as the landscape of both the Northwest and the Ozarks, where her grandparents lived. “I don’t know how many children really get to explore vast amounts of territory like that,” she has said in interviews. “It builds something in you.” . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Health & Illness, Death, The Body, Nature, Trees & Flowers, Animals, Love

POET’S REGION U.S., Northwestern

Poetic Terms Free Verse, Metaphor

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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