Clivias – bright and tough – a flower for old ladies

Mary Flynn’s head

If I could have the preserved
head of an ancestor to talk to

(maybe my three greats grandmother)
I would keep her on my desk

wrapped in a silken wimple
a brightly patterned scarf

balanced on a book or three
sometimes I would bring her flowers

alyssum a bold clivia daisies
Mary Flynn was Catholic she might

be comfortable with the relic role
I imagine her gaunt shriveled brown

like St Catherine of Siena repellant
but attractive with the holiness of age

and I would gaze
on her stretched lowered lids

as if with archaeological skill
I could penetrate the orbits

enter the remnants of her brain
extract her memories

in a neural cannibalism
feeding my curiosity asking

what was it like to be immigrant?
to be stared at?

to not know the ways?

to wonder if after all you
should not have left home?


The red pod in the glass is a clivia seed head which had been knocked off the clivia clump by our apartment building lift. I am optimistically waiting for it to ripen and burst forth multitudes of seeds.

I have to remain optimistic when writing – sometimes a poem just does not work – or worse – it works very well until the last important few lines. So I keep hoping for that last bursting forth of perfect words.

The poem I include here ( which contains clivias) is a bit of an odd one – but I had to keep going back to it for a couple of years hoping I would find the right ending, the last five lines.

Mary Flynn was my ggg grandmother. The family story is that she took to her bed for a week when her husband told her they were emigrating to New Zealand




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