Petals on Snow by Helena Mitchell

Photographs by the author

24 pp., 2000





Rose, unfold crimson.

Sweet fragrance comes like plum juice.

Petals fall to snow.





We called my grandmother Bubie.

After she died

My father took me to the zoo.


The animals

looked at me

behind bars,

howling with the wind.


My Dad held me high

in the biting air.

I threw popcorn into cages, giggling.


I was five

and felt pretty

in my new wool coat,

purple leggings

hooked around my feet.

Inside my shoes itched

like tiny hairs of a caterpillar



There was a matching hat, too

with a big brim

and a sash

that tied under my chin so tightly

that the winter wind

settled there

and grooved a crimson niche

that was sweet and painful to touch

because it was private and mine.


I waddled under the weight of the wool.

Was it my cheeks

which made the animals brighten

under oatmeal-slate skies?


The polar bears

fat and fluffy

blended with the landscape

reminding me of Bubie’s hair.



trees had lost their leaves.

The white ground was dotted

with maroon patches.

A scrawny squirrel darted past me

up a barren tree.


I wondered if the animals had come

from a place that was warm and green.

Now they lived

on concrete slabs

behind black bars.


I wondered how all the animals

lived in just their furs

without dying.


I thought of the animals

dying in the cold.

Were they buried beneath the snow

like my Bubie had been?


I wanted her to see me now.

I wanted to talk to the animals

to keep all of us warm.

I kept thinking of the cold.


A bird gave a wild laugh.