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Jennifer Franklin

Still, Flowers

 

Even today, with two new diagnoses,

(supposedly cured from the cancer

that almost killed me), I am still here.

I walk out of the doctor’s office,

with my bad news, into sun.

The spotted lantern flies are killing

maples and ailanthus all over the city

but someone has planted flowers

in the window boxes that line

my walk home from the pharmacy

that dispenses my daughter’s four

epilepsy drugs. Still, flowers open

and their petals withstand the wind.

I stop to memorize their shock of pink.

 

 

After reading that Flaco flew into a building and died

 

“to be / Assassin of a Bird

Resembles to my outraged mind

The firing in Heaven,

On Angels – squandering for you

Their Miracles of Tune –”

             —Emily Dickinson 

 

He lived in this neighborhood for almost a year.

I never spotted him in the wild but in photographs

he perches on water towers, fire escapes, and balconies.

I have not escaped my cage. Have not soared

above anything with abandon. Have not looked down

on grass or trees. Even if a vandal cut the mesh wire

of my enclosure, I wouldn’t leave. Love binds me

here as the walls close in and the tinny music

of the harp creates an intractable earworm.

In the middle of the night, I look out the window.

From this perch, I might have sighted him emerging

from a nap on an air conditioner or a terrace, to follow

a slow rat, thick with poison. I might have heard

a struggle as he swooped down to make a kill.

 

 

There Was a Time

 

After everything that has happened,

we can only agree on flowers.

 

If you were here, you would love

the huge hibiscus—each peach

 

flower closing for the evening—

folded like your fists when you sleep.

 

It’s hard to believe we lived

through those years of my treatment

 

when you slept in my bed mouth open

like a dead body waiting to be embalmed.

 

We haven’t slept under the same roof

in years. Now, when we spread

 

peach jam at your breakfast table,

we each strain for something

 

uncontroversial to say over the scent

of burnt toast on your apple green

 

plates. A robin perched on the branch

above the deck frightens the dog.

 

In a moment, it’s gone. There was a time

I would have picked up the phone

 

to tell you what happened but now

I can only send you a photo of the hibiscus.

 

 

Self-Portrait as Panel Painting

 

I am this tiny tabula

of a swallow, sharp-beak

 

like a silver sword,

curved claws, motionless,

 

iridescent, still wing.

Painted on wood over three

 

other paintings of birds—

a gold canary in a cage,

 

a nightingale out of sight

above a beech tree, consumed

 

by its own song, a finch

chained to a shelf, blinded.

 

A crackled palimpsest on cut

wood, bronze circle at the top

 

to put a nail through. Hang me

on the cabin wall. Don’t let me

 

remember the other birds beneath

thick paint. Don’t remind me

 

of the song that used to emerge,

unbidden from my small soft chest.

 

 

Jennifer Franklin is the author of three full-length poetry collections including If Some God Shakes Your House (Four Way Books, 2023), finalist for the 2024 Paterson Poetry Prize. Franklin has received a Pushcart Prize, a NYFA/City Artist Corps grant, and a Café Royal Cultural Foundation Literature Award. Her work has been published in anthologies and journals including in American Poetry Review, Bennington Review, The Nation, The Paris Review, Prairie Schooner, Poetry Society’s “Poetry in Motion,” and The Academy of American Poets “poem-a-day” series. With Nicole Callihan and Chenda Bao, she coedited Braving the Body (Harbor Editions, 2024). She teaches craft workshops at Manhattanville’s MFA program and 24 Pearl Street of the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. For the past ten years, she has taught manuscript revision at the Hudson Valley Writers Center, where she serves as Program Director.

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