Cutting Peonies

Nancy Pulley


I return not to a graveyard, but to peonies

burying my face in their cool petals.

Sometimes, I hold a flower

and watch ants crawl drunkenly into

the female folds. On a sunny day, I might

walk a bit tipsy around bushes, breathing

like I did with her, past all thought.


She no longer has a name yet is everywhere,

giver of my life and woman who took away the sun.

I cut the bouquet, each stem still seeping.

Her chest she showed to us after the mastectomy

body broken and I looked with a child’s curiosity

for a long time. When they bless

the body and blood, I remember hers.


I arrange the scented peonies, so full

and pink they almost touch the ground.

One flower to love again like on those nights

when she read Hiawatha, her voice

a river, a wind, an open sky, each word a song

against the dark, little fireflies, wah-way-taysee,

daughter of the moon Nokomis. I fell

through the evening twilight to the comfort of my cradle

while her voice still lapped and whispered.


One flower to trust like I did before

that day of continuous praying in the blue armchair,

praying for the first time like I meant it, that day

at the end of which she died.


One flower to understand the sheet

they pulled over her like the coolest of white peonies,

a petal dividing worlds. All the other flowers

I gather to feel whole again, to find her

gloriously expanded; woman with the missing breast,

story teller, mother of iris, supreme healer

who squeezed the juice from the grape, who covered

the bleeding temple with her blue-veined hand.




All my flowers gathered to find her in that river bed

on the ledge of that mountain, on an Indiana hillside

surrounded by scrub cedar. All the harvests

of my life I gather to show her, to kneel

in her presence. Finally, to give the peonies to her.




Nancy Pulley’s previous chapbook, Tremolo of Light, was the winner of the 2nd Indiana Poetry Chapbook Contest sponsored by the Writer’s Center of Indiana.  Nancy is a graduate of Indiana Central College now the University of Indianapolis. Her poems have appeared in  Flying Island, Arts Indiana Literary Supplement, Passages North, Plainsong, The Sycamore Review, the Humpback Barn Collection and A Linen Weave of Themes, a collection of poetry on tape, as well as other journals and publications.   A new book, Dream Puzzle, was published in the spring by Art in theHeartland Press.