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Poetry Feature: “Loblolly Pine in a Field of Hollyhocks” By Vievee Francis


Loblolly Pine in a Field of Hollyhock

There is sweetness, oh yes, there is, like a thin pistil of honeysuckle
gone almost as soon as it’s sucked, like lips pursed just so, like a needled pine
with blossoms at its feet and far afield, and the slobbering bees bobbing punch-drunk.
So sweet, to inhale the late afternoon and the slight damp, hint of dew, or the rain
to come, like the rough lick of animals, a whistle, a rude joke in the ear,
trill of dying cicadas, a mouth of sour mead in the quickening day. Dear,
but not innocent, not the purity of some child, no virgin’s fount—no,
sweetness like joy must emerge from soil, from the torn fruit grown ripe
to bitter, not the penitent’s vision, nor the onanistic ecstasy of a lonely saint,
but the sweetness found in a stain of wine, or the cloy of blood soup, thickening as it cools.



Hannah Thompson (Poetry Editor): As someone who suffers from depression, I’m generally wary of unadulterated happiness—I cringe when I see an inspirational quote, I’m wary of happy families, I only befriend sad or jaded people. So it may seem odd that I’ve selected this poem, which begins “There is a sweetness,” for our January Poetry Feature. But Vievee Francis’ sweetness is complex, hearty, and sorrowful. Francis’ sweetness is a side-door into happiness, it is harsh as the “rough lick of animals,” and rich as “the cloy of blood soup.” I’m led to wonder and joy by a familiar hand, a hand that knows discomfort, sees sweetness in it.


This poem appeared in Indiana Review 33.1 in Summer 2011

Vievee Francis is the author of Blue-Tail Fly (Wayne State University Press, 2006), Horse in the Dark (Northwestern University Press, 2012), and Forest Primeval (Northwestern University Press, 2016), winner of the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for Poetry. She is an associate professor at Dartmouth College and an associate editor for Callaloo.