These two poems by Pepper Cunningham use snapshots of interpersonal relationships to explore the unique growth borne from decomposition, connecting physical environment and organic decay with quiet intimacies and the perpetual, bone-deep fear of both leaving and being left…
by: Pepper Cunningham
In your chains and black jacket,
your chest patched with stick-and-pokes
and the ache of becoming,
you took up work as a florist
and somehow you were the brightest
thing in the shop among every bright thing.
You handled every cut and stem with care,
sank your hands deep into the mulch
and cultivated yourself into a late bloom.
That was the year I first noticed your stutter
when you were sad, or drunk,
the first year I noticed that you had grown
from the wildflower seeds we had planted
in Mom’s garden when we were kids.
The night before I moved across the world
you texted me “i hope you’re awake
and i hope you like daisies”
and at midnight, hundreds of daisies
burst from every corner of the kitchen,
spread across the dining room table,
spun in your irises.
You reached out to me
as you always have
with your callused hand
in its black dollar-store gloves
without the fingertips, loose threads
wreathed around your knuckles.
You offered me a daisy.
I stuck it behind my ear
and buried my face in your jacket,
planted my fear deep in our bones.
the chains, the years,
the perennials, the roots.
Caro found the first bone.
I dropped my motorcycle helmet,
cherry against the brown mess
of mountaintop, and ran toward her,
as I always do.
The bone was already dried,
bleached white as the Ecuador sun,
fading fast as the day.
I took it from her, inspected
the miniature cavern of petrified promise
perched on our year of quiet solitude.
We scoured the mountain folds
and collected teeth, bits of femur
and jaw, delicate ribs.
How many layers of mountain, of bone,
of infinite waterlogged sunset and blue time
did we wade through to get here,
hands clasped, puffs
of clouds like thought
bubbles over our heads,
murmuring stay, stay,
our own jaws unlocking,
our rib cages opening a door.
Pepper (she/her) is a writer and teacher who hails from Texas but now calls home the mountains of Vilcabamba, Ecuador. She spends her free time writing by the river, making collages, and marveling at the sheer amount of unrecognizable beetles and butterflies that live in her garden. Pepper is currently the Translation Editor at MAYDAY Magazine. Her most recent work appears or is forthcoming in Ample Remains and Anti-Heroin Chic.