Monday, May 10, 2010

Flower-sellers, Budapest

Flower-sellers, Budapest
by Kathleen Jamie

In the gardens
of their mild southern crofts, their
end-of-the-line hillside vineyards,
where figs turn blue, and peppers dry
strung from the eaves,
old women move among flowers,
each with a worn knife, a sliver
crooked in the first finger
of her right hand —
each, like her neighbours,
drawing the blade
onto the callus of her thumb,
so flowers, creamy dahlias,
fall into their arms; the stems'
spittle wiped on their pinafores.

Then, when they have enough,
the old women
foregather at the station
to await the slow, busy little train
that will take them to the city,
where families drift between mass
and lunch; and they hunker
at bus depots, termini
scented with chrysanthemums,
to pull from plastic buckets
yellows, spicy russets,
the petally nub of each flower
tight as a bee;
and from their pockets, pink ribbon
strictly for the flowers.

We must buy some,
— though they will soon wither —
from this thin-faced
widow in a headscarf, this mother
perhaps, of married daughters
down at the border —
or this old woman, sat
among pigeons and lottery kiosks,
who reaches towards us to proffer
the morning's fresh blooms;
or the woman there who calls 'Flowers!'
in several languages —
one for each invasion:

We must buy some,
because only when the flowers are dispersed
will the old women head for home,
each with her neighbours,
back where they came, with their
empty buckets and thick aprons
on a late morning train.