At last a spray of gladioli

in a glass vase,
the big yellow
doll house raided

by hornets.
She parks her
brain in the
coffin pew
and does not.
flinch at hope.
Why do I
wince when
grace is said?
Who will hear
mother’s
confession?
Our father

keeps at me,
his voice bright with
contempt.

         —by Todd Robinson

Todd Robinson’s work has appeared most recently in Sugar House Review, great weather for MEDIA, Arc Poetry Magazine, Natural Bridge, burntdistrict, A Dozen Nothing, and Chiron Review.
His first collection of poems, Note at Heart Rock, was published by Main Street Rag Press in 2012. He has taught for the last decade in the Writer’s Workshop at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “At last a spray of gladioli”?

    The piece began as an address to my sister, an attempt to apologize for being a bit of a beast to her when we were children. The gladioli were a gift “to say sorry for the Charlie horses.” Then I ticked off a few more sins before veering into the imperfections of our parents, as if to vindicate my youthful barbarism. Somehow I crammed twenty years and four lives into two hundred words and thought the resulting shambles (then titled “Living Amends”) beautifully bleak. Alas and alack, my writing group could not see through the muddle and told me so in several ways. To my everlasting gratitude, our host, the great David Wyatt (http://garev.uga.edu/spring14/wyatt.html), circled a few charged phrases and urged me to build a new poem from the wreckage of the old. These fragments, with some tweaking, became the work you so graciously accepted. My revision wasn’t quite finished, though—your 20-line limit confounded me until I lopped off the then-new title (“The True Apology Takes Years”) and made the first line (“At last a spray of gladioli”) a lead-in title. This had the salubrious effect of removing an abstraction and that somewhat simpering, self-pitying tone and highlighting what may be the best phrase of the lot. The resulting poem is lean, mean, and a bit ambiguous rather than sloppy, whiny, and expository. I’ll have to buy my writing group a pizza to thank them for their ruthless aesthetic honesty…
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