Four-o’-Clock (Mirabilis multiflora)

I prefer four-o’-clock’s
understatement
to showy bouquets.
Such small florets,
recoiling from light
like a snail
retreating
from a child’s advance!
She opens only
from dusk
until dawn
for select courtiers—
the long-tongued sphinx moth
or a few stray bees.

No one would cut
a four-o’-clock
to place in a vase,
to lavish on a lei,
or to create a corsage.
Her fragrance,
once removed
from her maze-like shrub,
would wilt.
So many stems
overflowing from
one small round seed.
So much show
of lavender
at dusk or dawn,
or on days when
skies are overcast,
but in the heat of the sun,
she shuts herself up.

She lets her blossoms down
only in oblique light,
won’t even pretend
to compete
with Mexican hats
and sunflowers
or sacred datura.
Where she takes root,
she launches vines
and blossoms
every which way
like a child’s backyard fireworks
display, or sparklers.

She prefers
nocturnal pollination
and shies
from sunlight,
but when her energy
is spent down,
the heat of her bloom
gives way
to a small black seed,
impervious as a bead,
round as a ripe peppercorn.

Her seed, nestled
among dried papery shells
of spent blossoms,
rattles on tasseled stalks.
When wind shakes tattered
tethered petals,
seeds pop and pounce;
then, the four-o’-clock,
bowing and tipping
her twining branches,
broadcasts her black pearl:
the seed scatters and rolls.

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