Tulip Fever

by Adrie Kusserow

Each spring, when the sun finally dragged its paw
across the mangy, battered meadows, I’d wander,
light starved into the 1,000 tulips my Dutch
father planted, just as they opened their gaping
red and purple jaws. What an indulgence,
the farmers said, as they bitterly whacked the caked
manure off their black rubber boots. Still,
how I loved the tulips with such desperate hunger. In their presence,
my brain began its frantic hunt, ravenous
pounce, an almost violent pecking of metaphors,
similes flocking in like a murder of crows. For it
was in the ritual of perfect description I thought
I could be closest to them: Burning Hearts, lipstick streaked,
brazenly splaying their thighs. Queens of the Night,
standing aloof, regal rococo ruffles the color of eggplant.
Orange flames of the Fire Parrot black-beaked and wild,
guzzling wells of ink down their necks. Double
fringed white Angeliques, like a whole squawk of geese
flapping and nipping toward sky. The giant red Darwins,
shiny clawed lobsters, underbellies bulging and blue veined.

And yet it was a kind of torture to be separate from the tulips.
Hoping to swallow their beauty whole, I sucked on a petal, a mammoth
white lobe bringing nothing but a gagging fake communion.
Meanwhile, the squawking in the birdcage of my mind continued.
The shame and lunacy of it all. Didn’t I have
enough? Think of the farmers, forced to sell
their land, watching TV in the stuffy heat
of their trailers where I sheepishly delivered bouquets (on orders
from my father). As if this could make up for our glaring wealth,
I yelled at him one day. I didn’t know
that something mute and elemental would open,
as I sat throat deep in that field, and let the tulips
be, a kind of quiet softening in the bed
of my mind, that I would come to cherish for even
five or six seconds, when all the crows stopped pecking
and all the tender beauty of my father’s
last crop, by now pockmarked with such
desperate description, finally stopped bleeding.

Adrie Kusserow, MTS ’90, is Professor of Cultural Anthropology at St. Michael’s College in Vermont. She has had two books of poetry (Hunting Down the Monk and REFUGE) published by BOA Editions as part of their New American Poets Series. Her poems have been published in Best American Poetry, The Kenyon Review, Prairie Schooner, The SUN, and elsewhere.

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