624: Sunflowers in the Median

624: Sunflowers in the Median

624: Sunflowers in the Median


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

When I was seventeen, I graduated early from high school, and moved to Germany to follow my boyfriend who had moved there with his father. The goal was to travel as much as we could on the very little money we had saved up from working through high school. We could use his father’s house as a home base. He lived in a little town called Wixhausen and from there we went to Spain, France, England, Austria, The Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, and Czechia. Mostly by train. Mostly staying in hostels or camping. Mostly fighting and then making up again.

We weren’t home in Germany too often, but when we were, one of our favorite places to go was a little Italian restaurant that was a few miles away. It was cheap and served us wine. We’d walk there, across the train tracks, and through backroads, and…miraculously…past a field of sunflowers. I remember being so taken aback by how many sunflowers there were. It felt like being attacked by beauty. I loved that field so much and I remember thinking that I could be a sunflower seed farmer just to be around all those big-faced flowers part of the year.

What is it about noticing beauty that brings you out of yourself and returns you to yourself? I remember three or four sunflowers growing in a little plot of dirt in Brooklyn each early summer and I’d delight in rooting for them. I loved and still love rooting for beauty, for awe, for those unexpected visions that make life a little easier to manage.

Right now, there’s snow on the ground still, and there’s not much green to be seen. But I have made a wall of plants in our living room window. And I am rooting for them. They might not be an overwhelming burst of golden wonders, but they are green and living and they remind me that I am living too.

In today’s vibrant poem, we see how the image of sunflowers can allow for a sort of grace. I love this poem for its appreciation of unexpected beauty.

Sunflowers in the Median
by Natalie Homer

Everything is a union of one kind or another.
Foothills know this. Highways too.

In the median—wild sunflowers for miles.
Cheerful, unassuming. They are no one’s bouquet.

My dad and I try very hard to seem at ease
with each other. We comment on the bison

stampeding across the casino’s electric sign.
Pixilated, their clouded breath leads them

again and again over an imagined prairie.
Later I will make this drive every day,

memorize little landmarks: the row of cottonwoods,
the peaked shelter at the reservoir’s edge,

the water towers marking the reservation.
I will become so sick of the sagebrush,

the snow and the sun, an incessant blue sky,
that I’ll wilt to think of this place being home.

But today it’s a morning I’m not sorry to be awake for,
so that’s something. And no one mourns a coyote

with his russet head resting on the road’s shoulder.
Neither does the ditch fire elicit sympathy.

The sunflowers did not teach me this,
but their small faces look so cheerful

bouncing in the slipstream of traffic—
I will believe anything they say.

"Sunflowers in the Median" by Natalie Homer, from UNDER THE BROOM TREE copyright © 2021 Natalie Homer. Used by permission of Autumn House Press.