Lyn Lifshin


I wore Tea Rose and
often a black rose
in my hair that summer,
symbol of freedom,
a nod to the White Rose,
the German girl who
protested the Nazis,
gave her skin, her lips
and heart, her life. I was
flying coast to coast
to read, coming back
to an alone house. Named
for the rose, for an aunt
adventurous as Joni,
who danced in flames,
I dressed in rose. Deborah
of the roses. The stories
about her whispered by
grown ups behind stained
glass doors. Who wouldn’t
expect roses in my poems?
White rose, Bulgarian
rose. When I walked thru
airports with a white
rose from Allen Ginsberg
everyone whispered, “roses.”
But it was the rose scent
perfuming the air from my
body. You could almost
hear, as even now I can
almost feel the one who
touched me on that
coast, what Joni heard
in the wind, the end
of, the chilly now,
the last face to face


the way I scrawl my name,
the petals that don’t
connect to any center.
I felt like that
summer, packing and
unpacking my head,
alone in a hotel room
drifting like milkweed
dust. Rose on my wrist
and nipples. I think of
Joni, her blonde hair, a
fan on the rocks of the
Pacific miles from where
an ex-con poet sent me
keys to a hide-away. He
might as well have
been a rock star, Joni’s
rock n roll man,
the kind any blond would
flip her hair for, fall
and follow home. A man
you can’t hold long or
count on. Back in my room
I played her songs
over and over as moths
brushed the August
screens and berries
glistened. It was so still,
so much seemed too
good to waste and
I wasn’t even blonde
to the bone yet


When I see hers
sprawled across the album,
explosive brush strokes,
guava, blood and green,
her wild petals not
connected to any
stem. I can’t help but
feel those slashes
of light in your poems,
how sometimes if seems
your words could be mine.
I’ve heard those lost
lovers in the wind. Maybe
I heard then last night
when I couldn’t
sleep. I think of the
photograph of you with
a rose in your hair. You
could be my sister those
nights when I am the
rose I was named
for, Raisel Devora.
And why wouldn’t some
one pierced by words,
turn addict for a
sense rare as Tea Rose
or Rashimi rose incense.
Those lovers, like
applause: I found them
addictive too. I think of you
crisscrossing the country,
a cigarette dangling,
leather and suede,
tawny earth colors
(you could find in my
closet), eyes few would ever
be as blue as. Aching for
something you can’t
still hold and knowing
from that raw wound, pain
and piercing beauty explodes


sometimes what stays
is the odd way one
said “Albany.” Or
another’s print on the
wall no paint hides.
You hear “honey”
in the wind. So few
called me that as
many years. As in
her song, that
sound, like applause,
face to face. Tristes
and joy. I can feel
her feeling it. Some
times what stays
is the fog the
day after, a voice
on the radio like
skin, days when her
words were like
lips on the air. No
more shiny hot nights
of rose petals, but
that touch that will
stay, last if it has to, as
long as your
heart beats


like tumbleweed, like
milkweed. Wind
blown, drifting between
hands. Oh she’s a
free spirit boys use to
sing to me too, shaking
their head. No one
can hold her. My mother
tried to, my father didn’t
care. Joni knew you
could be so drawn
and quartered. Wanting
a home with candles
around the door,
wanting a man who’d
be there to hold her and
then packing in the
night, eloping alone with
strangeness in a short
skirt and heels, fuck me
shoes and a hooker
sequin mini: a mask a
moat only the wind catches


when I go back and
look at those poems,
it’s as if Joni
dabbled in them.
A little jazz, a
blues riff. I think
of the woman on
the metro, sobbing.
I think of rain.
I think of roses.
Of blues my baby
left me. I think
of Joni’s woman
with her Tarot cards
and tears, of all
things that did not,
could not happen,
more haunting than
so much that did


her words are my
words: “tarnishes,”
“beads” tapestries.”
I think she’s my
doppelganger with
her letters from
across the seas
and her roses
dipped in sealing
wax. Was there
something in the
water those rose
and butterfly years?
The white rose
Alan Ginsberg
gave me flattened
in a Shakespeare
Folio before wax
caked its leaves
could have been one
her tin angel sent.
The columbine
I planted in the
house I’m rarely in,
color of her lips,
her crying. I too sat
in a Bleeker St Café.
I used “tarnish” over
and over that year


when I hear butterflies
and lilac sprays, the
glitter, the what she
heard in the wind,
a fierce lullaby.
I think of Virginia
Woolf keeping
fragments, scraps of
images, tossed
them in a drawer. I
think if I cut lines
from a random
number of songs,
Chelsea Morning,
California and esp.
Blue, color that
leaks thru my writing
and put, like slices
of colored glass
or velvet squares from
a quilt into kaleidoscopes,
into a bedroom drawer
and waited to see
what would coalesce .
Each time I dipped
the verbs would
keep changing and I
don’t think I could
tell Mitchell’s
words from mine


When I read about the
photo retouch expert in
Japan, taking what’s
blurred and faded, torn,
assumed lost and how
removed from debris,
as I’ve pulled some of
Joni’s songs from a
dark room in the house
I’m rarely in and what
was, blooms again, brings
back the most vivid
memories. I listen again
to her words, the
lyrics raw and direct,
chunks of what I
thought I’d lost and I’m
astonished, as those
locals in Japan who come
to look thru photos that
were found, cleaned
so they can hold
what they no longer
have, touch, bury
themselves in


I think of that long white
dress of love. I think of a pale
Mexican dress I lusted for
in Guadalajara, perfect
for my long ironed hair.
If it was lacy, it was a lure.
It was like poems. It was
like using words for skin. I
think of being that young and
of her in her 20’s singing
how first you get your
kisses and then you get your
tears. Her musty LP like
my still white lace spills from
my closet instead of kisses

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