“In this four-part elegy, the sun shadows life with death; the sunflower faces light but is backed by shade; the Apollonian and leonine hero - a working-class Lycidas - is crashing from drug addiction … [to] the final section of this miniature, …. ‘let those who can memorize light / eclipse their demons,’ hit hard the heart … Giovanna Riccio is a poet of divine - I mean indomitable - gifts. Each unconventional - i.e., insolently brilliant - line summers, in ‘florid burst - August / spiking the air’.” - George Elliott Clarke, 2019. (Solar Florals have been published in Exile Quaterly, 42.3, p.98.)
That word sunflower stiffs the lithe go-getter—
more limber the camber of girasoleor tournesol
troping improbable brilliance.
A novice bloom mimes sun,
when night drops, it pivots east,
lies low until Apollo cycles up
to recharge instinct, boost circadian spunk.
The sunflower senses the cloud’s coverup
limns elusive winds, never snuffs life’s spark.
All grown up, the seasonedhelianthus
comes to a stand still, a last stand;
the summer sage, far-seeing,
tilts eastward for good—back
shrouded by shade—facing
dusky fire whorling to seed.
My rebel sunflower roused
a fey bad-boy toting loud bouquets,
yellow fields romancing canvas, tall photographs,
our shields against stygian spooks
or sleep broken by daddy’s drink-primed rage,
no angel’s skirt rustling refuge either,
only threadbare motherlove drubbed to flight
cracked plaster and babes tip-toeing on eggshells,
you rapping adoleful couplet
Don’t push me’ cause I’m close to the edge
an anthem, half smile, half- epitaph
Sometimes I wonder, how I keep from going under….
from pitching into wintry soil
where no happy-flower could root,
layers of blushing shirts you piled on, a poor fix
for below-zero shivers, smug classmates a-snicker,
the teacher’s cold feet jammed in her craven mouth.
In your godforsaken house, the fridge chilled
one crystalline bottle of Smirnoff leaving you,
as senior sibling, to lift Spam, soda crackers
and canned soup for ravenous kids,
to bust a lamp on your father’s putrid noggin
lurid, over your sister—shattered,
you gathered light shards and at 14, split
for a gamin’s dawn, a castaway crashing
in an underlit furnace room; castoff blankets
and solo boy crunching lifesavers in the two-dog night.
By instinct you and Henry found each other,
twohellions, leonine, on the scrapheap
chalking fighting words in alleyways,
slinging booze to quell mean-cop fists,
turning birthdays to drink, drugs and dealing,
or three-squares in jail where you learned to do laundry
and to bleach the night with smack that left bruises
trailing up your arm and wasted you
to a hungry slip needling ghosts.
Then Henry stone-cold on the bed
from too much memory and dirty junk,
you, at the window afraid to shoot up,
reaching through panes, petrified veins
and dead wood, eyeballing sun detoxing fog.
So, nothing left but to doff
the lab coat’s bluff, cut surgical babble
snaking through drip tubes, (nothing here we can’t reverse)
The crescent moon stabs my breast
grief’s bone-sliver blow; wheels hurling
to no-exit—huis clos,
no emergency exit--
driving a one-way good bye
down an asphalt mourning ribbon—nothing
but death is irreparable.
If only the corridor were a two-way street,
but there’s no way back, no call to dodge
darkness; with the hospital room off life-support,
dawn streams in, purling light
--your body gone lucid,
no more air hunger or thirst for cause,
only you spiriting sun,a halcyon amen
conjuring our beloved willow tree
and you forever handsome,
bookish on the beat-up bench
bathed in April rays;
And I your lover;
your name rising, mint on my lips
and warm, in my empty hand, our first dance,
when we broke ground
straining for sky.
Alone, I draped you in emerald silk, planted
one lone sunflower breaking over your heart.
Five years clean you blew in, an end,
a beginning glossing New Year’s Eve
jivers, DJs, you and me itching for alchemy
looking to blaze blues into gold.
Me older, you doing the mature student thing,
we gamboled an incendiary twosome—swayed
and sashayed, dazing bad-luck and bad lovers;
hot on midnight’s heels, we twirled a volte face
two-stepped to dawn, to sleep afresh, rise anew.
All winter, I fed you tomato-laced penne,
sharp parmigiano, pears, sparkling water,
stoked logs on the fire, rearranged bygones
to a high-ceiling refuge for Shangri-la.
But let those who can memorize light,
eclipse their demons; yours lay low like hitmen
chafing beneath skin and though you rallied
after each smashing hit, veered into dog-eared books,
or twisted Buddha-like in lotus, each relapse
scored a black sheep fading to a done deal,
dead kidneys, dialysis, blood circling--
I fire up the computer’s sleeping screen
--sunflower halo over your name;
railing against February’s feeble sky,
I trek Bloor Street florist shops,
unearth a crush of sun-fisted helianthus
and stud the living room with love’s
petulant corona—each insolent torch,
each florid burst—August
spiking the air.