Sunflowers grew so tall in the Coshburns’ garden,
ten, twelve feet before a night windstorm
flattened them, decapitating some
(whose heads we found floating in the road,
and dangling from the wire mesh of a rabbit warren),
they frightened us … as if they were children who become
adults too soon, the darkness at their roots
sensed by other children—as I remember
sensing the coming beauty of Nancy Parker,
the death of Billy Meade. The sunflowers
grew uglier and uglier, a dozen higher ones
with faces descending at us from between
invisible shoulders, faces grotesquely swaying
on horrible stalks. And yet the Coshburns
seemed not to notice. Blithely, they beckoned us
closer and closer. Look up and see the sun,
they said. Don’t you wish that you and you
could grow so tall. The night they fell,
moths bumped our windowscreens, the radio
went static, then dead. My mother screamed
at her clothesline. From the upstairs porch
of our summer cottage, lightning serifs melting
all over the sky, I watched the Coshburns’ garden
as the sunflowers, one by one, went down,
splayed like compass points; and I was glad
the forces beyond us were protecting us
even in the small towns of upstate New York,
in 1945, in that hot war-torn July.

Dick Allen

This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 10 Number 7, on page 50
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