How Can Black People Write About Flowers at a Time Like This

Forgive me, for I have been nurturing
my well-worn grudges against beauty.

I am hoping my neighbors will show some mercy
on me for backing my car
into the garden

& crushing what I will say were the peonies.
a flower with a short
season. born dying.

some might say it’s a blessing to know your entrances
& exits. forgive me, for I have once again been recklessly

made responsible for the curation of softness
& have instead returned with another torrent

of viciousness. in the brief moment of their
flourish, at the opening of spring, I drove across
state lines

to gather peonies for a woman
who loved me once.
as a way of surrender,

I pull the already
dying thing from the earth
in a mess of tangled knots & I insist
that you must keep it alive

for a year, even after it so desperately wants to be
done with the foolishness of its living.
The last thing I ask

of this relationship is to burden you with another
relationship. it is so delicious to define
the misery you are putting

a body out of. & just like that, we are talking about power.
how awful this must be for you I whispered as I closed my eyes
          & put the car into reverse.

Hanif Abdurraqib, “How Can Black People Write About Flowers at a Time Like This” from A Fortune for Your Disaster. Copyright © 2019 by Hanif Abdurraqib. Used with the permission of Tin House Books.

This poem was originally read in the On Being episode “Hanif Abdurraqib — Moments of Shared Witnessing.”