Poem of the Week | July 22, 2019
Rosebud Ben-Oni “Poet Wrestling with Why the Heart Feels So Bad”
This week’s Poem of the Week is “Poet Wrestling with Why the Heart Feels So Bad” by Rosebud Ben-Oni!
Rosebud Ben-Oni is the winner of the 2019 Alice James Award for If This Is the Age We End Discovery, forthcoming in 2021. She is a recipient of fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) and CantoMundo. Her work appears in POETRY, The American Poetry Review, POETS.org, The Poetry Review (UK), Tin House, Guernica, Black Warrior Review, Prairie Schooner, Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, TriQuarterly, Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Journal, Hunger Mountain, The Adroit Journal, The Southeast Review, North American Review, Salamander, Poetry Northwest, among others. Her poem “Poet Wrestling with Angels in the Dark” was commissioned by the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York City, and published by The Kenyon Review Online. Her second collection of poems, turn around, BRXGHT XYXS, was selected as Agape Editions Editor’s Choice, and will be published in 2019. She writes for The Kenyon Review blog. Find her at 7TrainLove.org
Poet Wrestling with Why the Heart Feels So Bad
In another life, I’m a plant given to a lonely woman
who keeps me alive with stories of her sadness.
She waters me a little too often. Rarely trims
my stems. There are splinters & stray hairs
& cobwebs in the wicker work I rest against.
Returning home every night, she stumbles
before the whiskey is in her hand.
Usually, my kind don’t lose
track of time
& neither did I,
until I come to learn the story of her life.
From there, I grow
so tall & wide,
spreading across the walls & windows.
Along the ceiling I dance over
the dark spot
of a bath running over,
that shakes me hard enough
for a few leaves to brown & shed.
This goes on,
with my vines
covering dusty bookshelves,
the cracked glass of photo collages,
last year’s calendar & unwound clock.
This goes on & on
until the night
she finally takes
How a plant can’t really share
time with anyone, or go anywhere.
With a heavy grunt, she lifts
my pot. I’ve only felt
the night air once,
when I first broke ground.
Never again will rain & thunder
terrify me when she leaves
& lightning breaks
& terra cotta
not quite myself & unsure
what I am
I kick on her door.
In this other life I was a plant
who’s just turned into a pink-maned horse,
wet & starving
when the door opens
with her gasps
& curses & stares as still
I stretch my entire
in the new sun.
It doesn’t take as long as you’d think.
We fall in love.
We tear apart
& paint over & spill
leaving little cracks
in this new
Lavender & mint blossoms grow in a sea
of pink waves off my head & along my spine
with a few too many vertebrae,
I think, because she’d watered me
a little too much.
It’s a love as wild as you can imagine.
I bask in windows during heat waves
before she rides me,
& when I’m ill & my buds wilt,
she plucks them from my ashen mane.
Holds me when I die
going into a deep
sleep that lasts
She keeps me warm in our double-king-sized bed,
my rambling, trailing
legs & tail
shriveled up against her
that I’m an annual
How blessed that my heart & my
don’t work quite
like hers. How it’s not necessary
to say that even after she’s gone,
I’ll plant my hooves every night
at her grave & tell her
stories of my day,
the plant-horse who works
as a part-time display
in a flower shop. How I delight
children with the bright, muted
colors of my mane,
with my soft
green eyes. How they giggle
& sigh & even shed
a few tears, eventually letting
go of their mother’s hands
& comforting thighs.
I’ll go on dying,
just to lean down
so they can believe
when I drop
the last unwanted
on my love’s headstone,
those cut & bound,
& roots still
wet, as if they were never
This poem was first conceived in a dream: I was a plant who was turned into a pink-maned horse after living with someone and sharing their sadness, only to find out the person did not believe emotions could be shared between a human and a plant. The sadness itself in the dream was very vague; I was just hyper-aware of it, and didn’t need to know the backstory or why the human was so sad. While I was dreaming, I didn’t know I was dreaming, and when the person brought me outside, I didn’t know the lightening would strike, break my pot and turn me into a horse. So in the dream I was just as surprised and uncertain of what the human’s reaction would be– but then I woke up. The narrative of the poem came later, after I thought about what the dream could become. My endings almost always surprise me because when I write narrative poems; I just follow the music and see where it leads me. With this poem, I know there could be no other ending than the one that came to me, no other way to honor whoever’s sadness was, perhaps, reaching out to me across the ether, turning me into a horse. I do believe that there was a stranger wanting to be heard, wanting to be loved, and to me, this is how imagination itself can become a “palpable” genesis, and make what we dream very real.
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