Poetry: ‘Sunflower Poem’

Matthew Zapruder finds common ground with sunflowers.

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As the poem says, I had never really had the serious urge to garden. Then one day I felt compelled. I was so worried about my sunflowers growing at all that I did not realize the problem was that they would get too big and not be able to support the weight of their heads. It’s just a myth that sunflowers turn to follow the sun. Apparently they always face east. As a transplant to California, always in danger of falling over from the useless weight of my thoughts, I can relate.

I want to fall asleep
in the middle of the afternoon

but I stand here in the yard
wondering why I planted the sunflowers
yesterday all over the garden,

knowing they would never grow
nearly tall enough to penetrate
the diurnal gloom or turn

their heads to follow their lamp,

I’ve never planted anything
but a voice kept saying now,

so I went out
into the yard like someone
who wants the trees

to think he has a plan
and desperately strewed the seeds,

all afternoon the leaves like green coins
above my head
in the single redwood

my neighbors planted 60 years ago
so it is still young
made that sound,

and the old skull cloud came to complain
for too long about a handsome ice storm
that promised to return last winter,

the lamp softens all things it nears

soon I will go near it because I need
to write the difficult letter that says enough,

but first the skull says it was you
who planted these sunflowers
and now they are growing

far too tall, nothing
can support that golden weight,

go slip through the chipped green gate
to ask forgiveness of the forest,

some voice will answer
I was the one who came
to you in a dream and told you

put the seeds in the black soil then forget
the deeds of your enemies

you did one
and not the other and now
those sunflowers

will grow so tall their golden heads
will fall into the earth
and unlike you they will never die.•

This poem appears in Issue 23 of Alta Journal.

Matthew Zapruder is the author most recently of Father’s Day and Why Poetry.
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