Monday, July 18, 2011

Ode To A Phantom Flower (1999)

     Another job, another poem. This time I was working for a company that printed checkbooks. My official title was collator. My duties included checking the printed checks for spelling errors and separating the sheets of checks into separate books. It was boring work.
     This was in 1999 and, after my third attempt four years earlier, I had given up any hope of finishing my college degree. Still, I held tightly to the idea, the possibility, the dream of being a published writer. After all, Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Steinbeck (writers I had fallen in love with during my Romantic youth) had never finished college. Heck, Hemingway never even started college. I even used Albert Einstein, who had only a third grade education, as an argument that I didn't need a college degree to be intelligent or successful as a writer.
     Yes, I digress, but my point is I still saw myself as a writer; not a collator. To prove that, I spent my off time writing my stories. And, to be a true rebel, I wrote poetry on my breaks at work. I know. I was a mad man. Livin' on the edge. Don't mess with me. I'll take you down, too.
     So, anyway, one night I came in to work and found a single yellow flower standing on the desk of my cubicle. Don't ask what kind of flower. I can just about point out a rose, a daisy and a mum. It wasn't any of those. The yellow flower stood in a Snapple bottle filled with water.
     If you know me at all, you'll understand why I inherently knew that flower wasn't for me. Two other people shared my cubicle. Both were women on the first and second shifts, respectively. I saw them both during shift changes but only knew them enough to say hi as we passed each other at the time clock. The phantom flower had to be for one of them. 
     Nights passed as I watched this flower slowly turn brown and finally die. It made the nights go quicker trying to figure out which woman the flower belonged to and who had given it to them as a gift and for what reason or occasion. Finally, one night well past the flower's expiration date, the following poem poured forth:

Ode To A Phantom Flower
Frank Balara

Phantom flower standing in this water, bottled,
You've stirred my mind and left it mottled.
You stand here turning brown and dying.
Your time here is so quickly flying.
And I wonder if you served your purpose well.

Who received you? Who was your sender?
A broken heart? Were you to mend her?
Did you make a heavy heart light?
I hope your intentions were received just right.
Flower, I hope you served your purpose well.

Was it a simple thinking-of-you,
To cheer up someone feeling blue?
Perhaps an admirer from afar,
Boldly sent you inside this jar?
Flower, I hope you served your purpose well.

It's time for me to get back to work,
Before the boss thinks me a jerk,
For pondering a dying flower,
And its possible healing power.
So, Flower, here's the last thing I have to tell:

Flowers do die and beauty is fleeting,
But it is "the thought" that keeps on beating,
In the lovers' minds and in their hearts,
And that's how you'll know you've done your part.
Flower, I'm sure you served your purpose well.

     I have to say, I was proud of that little ditty. So proud that, at the end of my shift, I left the poem leaning against the makeshift vase for the owner of the flower to read. What followed was the first and only time I couldn't wait for my next shift of work to start. I couldn't sleep as I wondered what the flower's owner would think of my poem. Would they like it? Would they respond? Would the poem still be there? Would there be a reply?
     Finally, my next shift began. I raced to my cubicle. The flower was gone. My poem was gone. My heart sank. What would I do to pass the time now? It felt like a lover had cut me loose or someone had run over my dog. But I sucked it up and began to work.
     Then I saw them. The first time I needed to toss out an error-ed sheet of checks. The Snapple bottle and flower thrown in the trash. Laying soggily beneath them was my poem. Talk about a harsh critic. Now, I felt like that lover had struck me across the face before leaving or that the driver who hit my dog had left him in my bed for me to find.
      It took a few days, but I got over it. I went on to write more poems, to steer clear of getting a dog, to quit the check printing company,but I never did find out the real story behind the Phantom Flower.


  1. Good story Frank!

    You had me expecting a tidy conclusion, but alas, real life is typically not a tidy exercise.

    Now you have me wondering what the story was with the flower, (which is ever the mark of a goodbye story, to remain with the reader after the final page).

    Good job!

  2. Thanks Chris! Glad you enjoyed the poem and the story behind it. I wish there was more to tell, but you're right, life doesn't come with tidy endings. All that remains is a mediocre poem and a memory. Thanks again!

  3. I hope you continue to write. I, also, tried to get through college, but there was always an obstacle (not my grades lol). I still write. Plenty of writers paved the way before us. Why can't we?

    I loved your poem. I thought for sure you'd get a response. I'd have responded. lol =D