Joshua Bridgwater Hamilton: Bird of Paradise

Six foot explosion of slender leaves
from a forest island of fleshy
swayed columns
prods thick air with lascivious intent
here where Gulf Coast vegetation
grows profligate, an obscene flourish
that devours domestic walls
and subdivided perimeters
beneath heady sun and heavy heat.
Dense green sphere draws in,
absorbs air, oxygen, our frivolous
obsession with presence, leaves
a lenticular procession of transparencies
layering vertically until
waxy green smell fills the nose
from 40, then 60, then 80
years ago –
my grand-uncle Allen
in Puerto Rico leaves the sugar
company office, brushes by the slow
eager bushes framing the entrance.
Flame-orange origami slices
the accumulation of humid
hours, sharpens evening
to a razor red bleed –
I touch the unfolded petals
and feel the cut purse
of mercantile profits
spill through hazy years
when the career bachelor
assuaged worry with balanced figures,
stock prices, careful retirement,
the fleeting seagulls
basking in exorbitant rays
that expire beyond
each day’s seashore.
Kate Greenaway’s compendium
lists lilies for humility, innocence,
majesty, and falsehood;
the red rose for bashful shame –
familiar in my own garden
and past –
but nothing on the bird
of paradise, which I can
only define
as calculating sensuality
that offers colonial memory
in the place
where guilt-free presence
spreads its lush fingers
and blooms.

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