Search
  • breakwaterreview

Peonies by Jane Huffman

My mother took it all in: a junkie

with no front teeth who stole her

wedding ring; baby rabbits

from the garden my father rented

behind our neighbor’s house,

a small patch of Michigan

where the pumpkins grew unseasonably

large; balloon Jesus at the megachurch;

decaying watermelon rinds

at the Detroit Zen Center,

where she scrubbed the floors

in silence and ignored her stomach pains;

her appendix that burst on a school bus;

the mountain that ended her ballet career;

the snowsuit she was cut out of in the ambulance

and the man who left her for his wife;

the bronze deco elevator

at The Fisher where she asked patrons

if they were going up or down

and passed out orange lozenges

at intermission; the boa constrictor

that got loose in her duplex

when she was twenty-nine and the body

of the boa constrictor she found at thirty;

the chill that drove her under the awnings

of a Chinese restaurant where sheets

of meringue cooled, unlovingly, next to

the cash register—she bought them out;

my brother and her brother, the men

in my family who are always between

glass bottles and ass-less hospital gowns,

who have the same limp mouths

and puppy-dog eyes and come home

with bruises and wearing other people’s

clothing, who check themselves into motels

and sleep in Sunkist trucks;

who I have been mourning for years

already, but who continue to exist

among us like stone statues of martyrs

who were discredited centuries ago;

the secrets she taught me to have

as if passing on an heirloom;

her fur coat she never had the occasion

for; the peonies that blanketed Death Valley

the summer when she followed

my father to California

to bring him a pot of curry chicken

and ask if he would marry her

before her father passed.

He was spelunking out there—I mean it;

crawling into manhole-sized caves

and pushing his body to the point at which sun’s

neck could no longer find him. I don’t know

if she followed him into that darkness,

but I know the darkness that followed;

the trickle, the surge, and the howl

when the ceiling collapsed and I was lowered

into the shaft like a bucket in a well;

so trust me when I tell you that

there are peonies and then there are peonies.

Jane Huffman is an MFA candidate in poetry at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, where she is a 2016-17 teaching-writing fellow. She has published poems in West Branch, Witness, The Adroit Journal, The Common, SOFTBLOW, Word Riot, and elsewhere in print and online. She is a staff editor for Sundress Publications and Best of the Net Anthology. She lives and teaches in Iowa City, IA.

627 views

Recent Posts

See All

Best of the Net 2017

Breakwater Review is thrilled to announce our nominations for Best of the Net 2017! Fiction "The After-Hours Handbook" by Sarah Batcheller "Dybbuk" by Theodore Yurevitch Poetry "The Perfect Folding o

  • twitter
  • facebook
  • Instagram - Black Circle