they make new petals every day

Many of you may be familiar with Grace Paley’s prose, but she was also a striking poet. This one from Fidelity, the last book she wrote before she died three years ago, took my breath away the first time I read it.

“On Occasion”

I forget the names of my friends
and the names of the flowers in my garden   my friends remind me
Grace   it’s us    the flowers just
stand there stunned by the sun

A long time ago my mother said
darling    there are also wildflowers
but look    these I planted

my flowers are    pink and rose and
orange    they’re sturdy   they make
new petals every day to fill in
their fat round faces

suddenly before thought I
called out ZINNIA   zinnia
zinnia    along came a sunny
summer breeze    they swayed
lightly bowed   I said    Mother