A flower in a weedy field: make it a poppy. You pick it. Because it begins to wilt
you run to the nearest house to ask for a jar of water. The woman on the porch starts
screaming: you’ve plucked the last poppy in her miserable garden, the one that gave her the strength every morning
to rise! It’s too late for apologies though you go through the motions, offering trinkets and a juicy spot in the written history
she wouldn’t live to read, anyway. So you strike her, she hits her head on a white boulder
and there’s nothing to be done but break the stone into gravel to prop up the flower in the stolen jar
you have to take along because you’re a fugitive now and you can’t leave clues.
Already the story’s starting to unravel, the villagers stirring as your heart pounds into your throat. Why
did you pick that idiot flower? Because it was the last one and you knew
it was going to die.
Rita Dove, Commonwealth Professor of English at the University of Virginia, is formerly U. S. Poet Laureate and Consultant in Poetry at the Library of Congress. Her recent publications include The Darker Face of the Earth, a full-length play, and Lady Freedom Among Us, a fine press book commissioned by the University of Virginia as its four-millionth acquisition, containing the poem Ms. Dove read at the 200th anniversary celebration of the U. S. Capitol in October 1993. Her new collection of poetry, Mother Love, will be published by W. W. Norton this year.
“Heroes” also appears in the collection “Motherlove” published in Spring 1995 by W. W. Norton.