They sat on the right side
of my desk
quietly hauling water up their stems.
Connie gave them to me.
These wild flowers were not beautiful;
their mustard-colored petals
collapsed dramatically around a blood-red interior
as if to smother an obnoxious scream.
Connie thoughtfully plucked
the five wild flowers for me
during her lunch time walk
on the narrow dirt path in the field
Her thank you gift to me
after I’d found her in the company bathroom where
she sat on the sink ledge with her
head in her hands
I was her only friend
she told me
Everyone else in the world
her family, our other co-workers
Everyone hated her.
“I’m thirty-six,” she wailed. “THIRTY-SIX!”
She needed money, she said suddenly, to pay her cable bill.
I thought of the office gossip
And how Connie always wore long sleeves.
As I reached in my purse and brought out thirty dollars.
No one could accuse me of being judgmental
I handed her the bills
and went back to my cubicle.
I had a presentation to prepare.
By late afternoon, the flowers began to droop
The mustard color wilted into a burnt orange
Like little Buddhists engulfed in flames.
And I thought of the picture from Life Magazine
of the monk calmly sitting in his Lotus position
as he ignited himself to let the fire consume him
Using his body so brutally
to make our parents see
what they didn’t want to.
Now we ignore the soldiers, young and tired, forced
to march through sandstorms and
into crowded cities to find an enemy with
no description while the president
sits with his advisors shuffling the deck of cards
with the faces of America’s “Most Wanted”.
CNN slaps on a slogan
Shock and Awe
So when the bombs fall
We can watch them as if it were a Blockbuster rental.
Soon Connie started missing work
a day here, a week there
until she stopped showing up at all.
And our efficient office manager hired a new
receptionist with bright blond hair and shiny teeth.
Connie was forgotten.
Discarded like the flowers that once sat on my desk.
in my apartment putting on the last smear
of lip gloss getting ready
to meet friends at yet another trendy club
with ten dollar pints
The phone rang.
It was Connie, a forced lightness in her voice,
but a slight catch, too.
She needed money, she explained, she’d lost
her ATM card
and wanted to meet friends for dinner.
Of course, I said.
No one could accuse me of being stingy.
Twenty minutes later, I handed over two twenties
as Connie gave me a quick hug.
Her frail body barely able to raise itself.
I knew, though she didn’t say it,
She was homeless
And I thought about those flowers —
those five weedy martyrs —
that once slumped over
in the makeshift vase on my desk
as I raced off to the downtown club
Where my girlfriends and I drank
cocktails with fancy names
As a teenage soldier spits in his blistered hand
and regrips his gun
while flies hover like miniature vultures
over the bodies left in his unit’s wake
As Connie’s delicate arm receives
another puncture wound
adding to that awful track of her anguish.
So much that can never be undone.
And I thought of Connie’s flowers
A last gasp for sunlight.