Yogic limb-stretchers, oleanders enact the wisdom they’ve mastered:
reach without grasping for anything, bend without snapping for anything,
flower without warning anytime despite the climate’s refutations,
uselessly invite pollination, spray sweet pheromones on anyone,
shake out their heads, and, in one motion, sweep the air clean and litter the road.
Thin prayer whisperers, oleanders incant the lessons that they’ve mastered, say:
By you, wind, we are bent, by salt spray our leaves get browned, by the Department
of Agriculture we’re brought to blade; we raise and wave our battered petals, so
their bruises shine, wet, in the sun, let our ruin-marks be evidence of our flowers’
broken perfection. On account of you we breathe, we fall.
Quiet poison bearers, oleanders keep venom just below their skins:
Scratched, they let their bitter milk ooze indiscriminately, coat anything,
anyone trying to go through them, dare the weak-hearted to take a bite
and swallow them, say: Yes, yes—we taste well; Come and grease
on our flowering heads, come and chew our cool green leaves.
Peacocks at the Aquarium Garden Canteen
Lost, lost—stuck half prancing/half shrieking
at this mishmash ecosystem, trapped
by high fences and impassable turnstiles—
they’re prone to puffing up, swelling feathered bird-throats.
(The way you finger your dress after kissing
the expensive fizzy water bottle’s cold lip,
makes me jealous of it and more still
of the flies you don’t even notice
alighting while you spread your menu.
Their progress over dress, bottle lip,
and bottle, lost wanderers stopping
only to drink and eat and vomit,
obliterates your razz of lace and feathers.)
Semitropic daytime. Moist office-wear
curls a lunch-hour-sweaty testicle
tendril around faux iron filigree chairs,
wafts under poincianas where its bitterness
stings deep in the strutting birds’ nostrils.
They’re jealous, the peacocks, of human cosmetics,
even more so those mixed with human substances—
blood with aftershave, perfume with
infection stink, hair gel with scalp grease,
toothpaste with gum-blood, lipstick with plaque—
because in this garden they realize they’re useless,
beautiful without the spoilage nature affords,
because the pizzazz of feathers drowns out their shrieks.
Chris Astwood is a Bermudian poet currently living and studying in the United Kingdom, where he is a PhD candidate in creative and critical writing at the University of East Anglia. His writing has recently appeared in Caribbean Quarterly, the Rialto, Lighthouse, and World Literature Today.