Duane Niatum is a member of the S'Klallam tribe (Jamestown band) of Washington State. He has published poems, stories, and essays in more than a hundred magazines and newspapers in the U.S. and Europe. His fifth volume of poetry, Drawings of the Song Animals: New and Selected Poems (Holy Cow Press), was published in 1991. He is currently working on several manuscripts.
The Flower Merchant*
She steps toward him in the market square
and he again believes the earth will shake
them free of nightmares.
Decades he wandered like a Minotaur,
from sun to shadow, moon to aurora,
down the world's streets in search
of the woman who would break
through his wall like a moonbeam.
Her presence startles him the way a deer
would emerging from a mountain field,
a field bearing the southern face
of a mimosa. There is no need to tell
his yellow-cheeked gypsy their sexual
reaching for the light beyond the body
swirls free without guitar notes
to sew up the scattered pieces of their lives.
She whirls easily round each row of his
flower stalls; the air blooms with the essence
of lotus, the essence of their promise
and uniting paths. His eyes follow her
with a painter's love that completes itself
by choosing the struggles that riddle
the forms of nature. In the fountain of her eyes
he wants to leap six feet in the air,
because, for once in his life, he wasn't looking.
He asks her to stay and teach him what
to plant in the tangerine stream of sunset,
the day she bought a bouquet of violets,
gave them back and offered that night
beaujolais, dinner, and a walk under the Pleiades.
He hesitated, groped for a corner in the market
he could disappear in, count backwards
from the stars to his worry beads, avoid
briefly those eyes penetrating every petal
he sang into color. Her concentration,
a stem of earth, is why he sees himself
a bass in the highest branch of a sea pine.
Thirteen years younger doesn't make her
his daughter but it plays upon his nerves
like a drum to the spirit's quick. The passion of her moves encircles him.
Before she rubs oil of calendula
on his scars, pages from the book of weeping
and wrong turns fly apart, expose
his three-note song of hummingbird feathers.
But her aubade brings new bouquets
for the story-telling stone. Thus he wraps
up the little faces of his life and hands
them to her to touch noses like otters
on the ferris wheel sea.
*NOTE: The poem is loosely based upon Pablo Picasso's painting "Composition: The Peasants" (Composition: les paysans, cir. 1906).