Leaving Thistledown

Waist-high thistles keep vigil along the fence line,
buds pressed tight in silent prayer,
thick roots interwoven and spade-proof.

They’re only weeds, she tells herself,
they don’t mean what you think.

With scissors and barbecue tongs
she collects a basket of prickly buds, hoping
to steam them like artichokes for dinner,

but they offer no flesh. Damp hemispheres of flossy seed
bracket the knife blade, insubstantial but even so—
not ripe enough to fly.

She dumps them into the sink,
licks the garlic mayonnaise from her fingers
and goes to bed hungry.

She dreams of his hands swarming up her thighs
like wingless bees, drawn to the golden smell of honey
and the promise of heat through the dark season.
But dawn comes and he’s gone
without even a kiss on her cheek.

The door clicks.

Outside, purple bloom sweeps the field,
galloping from post to post, a mad rush.

She gathers armloads of thistles and arranges
feral bouquets in every room,
tracks of blood on milk glass vases,
the fragrance deafening.

By nightfall the flowers have shattered.
She perches on the edge of an armchair, surrounded
by a haze of floating seed.

So easy to wait in numb fear as drifts of thistledown
settle like worry lines into still corners.

So hard to rise, throw open the windows and doors
and turn it loose in the world.

~Kellelynne H. Riley