The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Kirk Swearingen

The Politics of the Peony


Bloody fingers emerging from the earth
in April blossom heavenly in May.
A working class flower with class, your

peony is as gorgeous as any
that can be found on the posh sides of town
and they do the job, coming back each year,

briefly, for the span of a month, looking
like roses on steroids, so full, so lush.
(Hard-working flowers, they ought to unionize.)

This morning I brought the last few blooms in
to stave off summer for a few more days.
Bringing peonies inside any dwelling—

whether clustered in an Art Deco vase
or left long-stemmed in a simple carafe
or short bunched in a wide-mouth Mason Jar—

provides instant opulence, makes one focus
on something other than the cracked and patched
ceilings, the aged casement windows, the failures

of house upkeep. Any room is transformed
by these flowers to a glossy magazine's
spread on a multimillion dollar condo

on Park Avenue or a house on Boston's
Beacon Hill. You can have what the wealthy
have without the drinking and infighting

(well, go ahead, have the drink but don't fight)
and without the constant worry about
maintaining the lifestyle; you won't because

the peony is just for now—today,
tomorrow (and maybe even Wednesday).
After which time its beauty will shrivel

like the matriarch of a wealthy family
in a classic movie about despair
among those to whom too much is given,

and you will rush it to the compost bin.
The peony teaches us how to live.
(Yeah, I said it; you walking away now?)

Lovely flowers gathered by your own hands
scattered about the place while you read Thoreau
or The Indispensable Chomsky, you feel

a strange comfort, something ineffable,
an odd, highly unlikely sensation,
something akin to the feeling one gets

while walking through a great public library
or while visiting a free art museum
or whilst attending Shakespeare in the park—

that fairness in this world might be a thing.




KIRK SWEARINGEN co-founded, with poet George Fortier, The Project, a writer's group (so named to escape undue notice in a corporate environment). Now in its 22nd year, The Project has maintained a core group of poets: Kirk, George, Jennifer Halling, Deborah Bowman, and Steve Ramay. Over the years, it has also allowed them the pleasure of working with the terrific poets Eric Ham, Eve Jones, and Catherine Rankovic. 

Kirk's poems have appeared in The Edge City Review, Delmar, Margie, and The American Journal of Poetry. His poems have also been honored a number of times in the annual competition sponsored by the Wednesday Club of St. Louis.



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