Still Life with Unidentified Flora

Ariana Benson


The flowers dying in the vase, the black-eyed susans

and lavender, especially, refuse my unrefined pity, sorry

in its own right. My stares filter through their dry wisps

and catch on the tree in the yard, the one with the severed

branch dangling, the dead limb almost as long and full as a boy

some would call a man.

I am ashamed that I do not know what kind of tree

my mind has hung that body from. This memory is not

a memory of a boy who was never a boy, but a branch

the tree will carry until it cannot. The tree would be right not to

accept my shame as apology.


Above the head-high arm of the jockey

on the flowers’ vase, a whip stretches, curving subtly

in the shadow-dimmed porcelain. I spare the horse my sadness

at the impending sting of leather on his brown flank—

the flowers have taken that sorrow as their own. I am reminded

again of what I am inventing: the pitcher is black and white;

so, too, the horse and his rider. Where else

have I found color where it never grew?


The flowers that, for what little I know, could be tickseed

and Russian sage, stand firm when I offer one last reparation, a pitcher

of fresh water. And I consider this, how thin an offering of life

when made under the wrong name, transparent as condensation on a pane

through which I see another tree, its even smaller boy.

I can no less forgive my mind than can a saw forgive its blade

for what it has unmade. The drops of water

on the glass face of the door run fast toward the ground.

The limb is cut from the tree’s body. The flowers,

at last, shudder and bow.

Ariana Benson was born in Norfolk, Virginia. Their forthcoming debut, Black Pastoral, won the 2022 Cave Canem Poetry Prize. Benson's poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Poetry, Ploughshares, Copper Nickel, Colorado Review, and elsewhere.
Originally published:
March 8, 2023


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