FLOWERS & BULLETS

Of course:
Bullets don’t like people
who love flowers,
They’re jealous ladies, bullets,
short on kindness.
Allison Krause, nineteen years old,
you’re dead
for loving flowers.

When, thin and open as the pulse
of conscience,
you put a flower in a rifle’s mouth
and said,
“Flowers are better than bullets,”
that
was pure hope speaking.

Give no flowers to a state
that outlaws truth;
such states reciprocate
with cynical, cruel gifts,
and your gift, Allison Krause,
was the bullet
that blasted the flower.

Let every apple orchard blossom black,
black in mourning.
Ah, how the lilac smells!
You’re without feeling.
Nothing, Nixon said it:
“You’re a bum.”
All the dead are bums.
It’s not their crime.
You lie in the grass,
a melting candy in your mouth,
done with dressing in new clothes,
done with books.

You used to be a student.
You studied fine arts.
But other arts exist,
of blood and terror,
and headsmen with a genuius for the axe.

Who was Hitler?
A cubist of gas chambers.
In the name of all flowers
I curse your works,
you architect of lies,
maestros of murder!
Mothers of the world whisper
“O God, God!”
and seers are afraid
to look ahead.
Death dances rock-and-roll upon the bones
of Vietnam, Cambodia –
On what stage is it booked to dance tomorrow?

Rise up, Tokyo girls,
Roman boys,
take up your flowers
against the common foe.
Blow the world’s dandelions up
into a blizzard!
Flowers, to war!
Punish the punishers!
Tulip after tulip,
carnation after carnation
rip out of your tidy beds in anger,
choke every lying throat
with earth and root!
You, jasmine, clog
the spinning blades of mine-layers.

Boldy,
block the cross-hair sights,
drive your sting into the lenses,
nettles!
Rise up, lily of the Ganges,
lotus of the Nile,
stop the roaring props
of planes pregnant
with the death of chidren!
Roses, don’t be proud
to find yourselves sold
at higher prices.
Nice as it is to touch a tender cheek,
thrust a sharper thorn a little deeper
into the fuel tanks of bombers.

Of course:
Bullets are stronger than flowers.
Flowers aren’t enough to overwhelm them.
Stems are too fragile,
petals are poor armor.
But a Vietnam girl of Allison’s age,
taking a gun in her hands
is the armed flower
of the people’s wrath!
If even flowers rise,
then we’ve had enough
of playing games with history.

Young America,
tie up the killer’s hands.
Let there be an escalation of truth
to overwhelm the escalating lie
crushing people’s lives!
Flowers, make war!
Defend what’s beautiful!
Drown the city streets and country roads
like the flood of an army advancing
and in the ranks of people and flowers
arise, murdered Allison Krause,
Immortal of the age,
Thorn-Flower of protest!

  — Yevgeny Yevtushenko (English translation by Anthony Kahn)

Dedicated to Allison Krause, one of the four students killed on May 4, 1970 in the Kent State Massacre.