“Poppies! Poppies! Poppies will put them to sleep. Sleep—now they’ll sleep.” If you are of my generation you probably know well that line from The Wizard of Oz. The Wicked Witch of West uses the spell to make Dorothy and her entourage (you know, the tin man, the scarecrow and the lion) fall sleep in a giant field of poppies. It turns out that the meaning of poppies is eternal sleep, oblivion and imagination. So the movie (and the book) got it right.
Poppies are in bloom in my neighborhood though I don’t have any in my garden (something I will have to remedy one of these days). They are best known for their deep red-orange almost Cray paper-like petals. California poppies are a bit different look and are the state flower of California. They are a yellow-orange color and their petals are more velvet than crinkled paper. I love both types though I had never seen the California type before I moved there in the 80s and spotted them all over the place. It is no wonder California poppies are the state flower given how they appear everywhere in the wild of California (and even the not so wild places like freeway medians).
Opium poppies supply opium hence their association with death. But poppies are also cultivated for oil that is used in cooking oil and margarine (can one get high from margarine?) And of course who doesn’t love a good poppy seed bagel. Oriental poppy is lovely in wedding bouquets and amapolas, as they are named in Spanish, are common for Puerto Rican weddings. I love the unusual purple and peach and pink and multi-colored oriental poppies the most with their single or even double-petal frilly edges. There is even an oriental poppy called the royal wedding—how fitting for your special day.
By Marion McCready
And how do you survive? Your long throat,
your red-rag-to-a-bull head?
You rise heavy in the night, stars drinking
from your poppy neck.
Your henna silks serenade me
under the breadth of the Pyrenees.
You move like an opera,
open like sea anemones.
You are earth’s first blood.
How the birds love you,
I envy your lipstick dress.
You are urgent as airmail, animal red,
Ash Wednesday crosses tattooed on your head.
Your butterfly breath
releases your scents, your secrets,
bees blackening your mouth
as your dirty red laundry
all hangs out.