Tulips in a jug

Their carriage and comportment are superb,
just so: they’re ready for the camera’s eye.
The girls, all sisters, cousins, pause – and offer up
a stopped bright fragment of their history.

Composed and radiant in deepest pink,
high on each slender neck a glossy head:
tonight there will be music and then dancing.
They wear their best; they will be late to bed.

Crushed together with a stiff green creak
of taffeta, they seem to hold their breath
for one long moment – and Monsieur has finished!
In sepia, the portrait will outlive his death.

The first steps of the dance. They move apart.
Bare arms reach lightly round a sister’s waist.
Inside these flowers, still, ambiguous,
pistil and stamen lie together, formal, chaste.

The petals curve around the hidden centre,
close and secret, hands around a flame –
then flare out with the brilliant summer waltzes.
Outside at dusk a young man calls a name.

Next morning things have changed. Abandoned, wild,
a silky wrap lies open where it fell.
Move close and stare inside: the darkness
of that first looking, touching, honey smell.

Beatrice Garland

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