“The Red Flower” by April Grant

“The Red Flower” by April Grant

Here’s a young man, alone and afoot.
His reason for climbing the trail to this fort
is honest as bread. He’ll give me the papers to sign;
then I leave here,
the stones I’ve been watching erode,
I leave, for a world full of light, for a land
full of promise, unseen.
A beautiful boy— they all seem like children to me—
Snowy collar and cuffs, a dandy.
He laughs till my ruined walls ring.

There was a man, once,
looked older than I ever have,
face lined and scarred, had a beard.
Did he weep for me?
There were tears in his eyes, I remember.
Why didn’t I make him my own?
I kept a hound, back in sword-times. A mastiff, she was.
I rode to the war.
(Oh, that narrows it down. There is always a war.)
There was a girl, once,
twice, ten, a hundred times,
there’s been a girl.
Who was she, who ran away laughing,
with bare feet on the stone floor?
Did she peel peaches, was I a man then to eat from her hand,
or did I invent that just now?
My servants brought me my officer’s coat and tall boots—
No. My helmet and white harness—
No. My wolfskins and steel hauberk—
and I rode to the river,
I rode through the ford,
at the head of my men,
to the land of the heathen,
again and again.

Back in the time of the sword,
my peasants would tell
of great Givriel
who, galloping hard in the rain,
saw a flower, desired a little
red flower that grew in the plain.
He leaned from his saddle to snatch at its red
with finger and thumb. Then it sank,
and pulled him down into the mud,
down to his waist, his neck, then his head,
and then down to Hell,
and that was the end of great Givriel.
I might sink by this boy.
His head in my lap, he sleeps off his dinner,
his chin red and sticky; a child.

I would stay here a year. Stand still, stars,
moon, set never again, let me lie
with this flower lad, here in the land that I ruled.
But the earth rolls away,
my land, as the young people say,
is too hot to hold me. I leave my own tombs.
Exile, and foreigners— those are the cure
for age and decay. Once again,
foreigners’ blood. This soft little sprout?
A voice among men. He will learn
how to shiver. A young, merry feast, for a time.

April Grant lives near Boston. She has published poetry in Strange Horizons, Mythic Delirium, Mirror Dance, The Literary Hatchet, and the anthology The Moment of Change (ed. R.B. Lemberg), and short fiction in Fireside Magazine. She is also a traditional singer and storyteller, with a selection of original songs and live recordings available at aprilcatherinegrant.com.