FIVE RED POPPIES
by Douglass Sherley
FIVE RED POPPIES
They hung their heads in a florist's window.
The people of the town did not buy them, for
they wanted roses—yellow, white or crimson.
But I, a lover, passing that way, did covet them
for a woman that I knew, and straightway
As I placed those poppies in a box, on a bed
of green moss, I heard them chuckle together,
with some surprise and much glee. "What a
kind fool he is," said the first poppy, "to buy me,
and take me away from those disagreeable roses,
and other hateful blossoms in that damp, musty
"I heard," said the second poppy, "one sweet
lily of the valley whisper to the others of its
simple kind that we would die where we were
unnoticed, undesired by any one—how little it
"How cool and green this bed of moss," cried
the third poppy; "it is a most excellent place to
die upon. I am willing, I am happy."
"Nay," said the fourth poppy, "you may die
on her breast if you will. She may take you up
and put you into a jar of clear water. She may
watch you slowly open your sleepy dark eye.
She may lean over you; then let your passionate
breath but touch her on the white brow, and she
may tenderly thrust you into her whiter bosom,
and quickly yield herself, and you, to an all-powerful
forgetfulness. She may twine me into
her dark hair, and I will calm the throb of her
blue-veined temples, and bring upon her a sleep
and a forgetting."
The fifth poppy trembled with joyful expectation,
but said not a word.
Toward the close of the next day I went to
her, the woman that I knew, to whom I had sent
I trod the stairway softly, oh, so softly, that
led to her door. Shadows from out of the unlighted
hall danced about me, and the sounds of
music—harp music—pleased me with a strain of
She rose to greet me with provoking but delecious
languor. She gave me the tips of her rosy
fingers. Her lips moved as if in speech, but no
words reached me; she barely smiled. In a priceless
vase near the open window they held their
heads in high disdain—those four red poppies
who had gleefully chuckled and chatted together
on the yesterday; but the fifth and silent poppy
drooped upon her breast. I turned to go; she
did not stay me; I stole to the door. "Take us
away with you," cried those four garrulous poppies;
"we are willing to die, and at once if need
be, but not here in her hateful presence. Take
us away." But the poppy on her breast only
drooped and drooped the more and said not a
I opened the door. The shadows had fled—the
hall was a blaze of light. The music had
ceased—only the noise of street below broke the
silence. "If thus you let me go, I will not return
again," I said.
The woman did not speak, neither did she stir.
But the poppy on her breast with drooping head
uplifted softly cried, "Go, quickly go, and—forget!"
I went down the broad stairway between a row
of bright lights—a dazzling mockery—I went out
into the night. I passed by a certain garden
where red poppies grew. I leaned over the low
wall. I buried my hot face among them. I
crushed them in my hands and stained my temples
with their quivering blooms. But all to no
purpose; they did not, could not bring forgetfulness.
I am thinking always of that woman, of
those four red poppies, and of that one red poppy
which drooped on her breast that night and said
to me, "Go, quickly go, and—forget."