Kathleen Hellen

The Knowledge of Roses

Kathleen Hellen’s work has appeared in Barrow Street; Cimarron Review; The Cortland Review; the Hollins Critic; Nimrod; Prairie Schooner; Salamander; Southern Poetry Review; Subtropics; Witness; among others. Awards include the Washington Square Review, James Still and Thomas Merton poetry prizes, as well as individual artist grants from Maryland and the city of Baltimore. Forthcoming from Finishing Line Press is her chapbook The Girl Who Loved Mothra. She is a contributing editor for the Baltimore Review.

Statement on “The Knowledge of Roses”
Borrowing from Keats, beauty albeit stolen, is truth, and as a child I was a thief.

Roses, daisies, tulips —anything of beauty I wanted, anything that caught my eye as the beholder. I remember my parents got phone calls. The neighbors complained. The idea had been with me for some time to write about my theft. As I started this poem, I was engaged by its mythic resonance. The biblical garden. The forbidden. Trepass as the vehicle for sin.

The flowers began to speak. They conspired. I heard them in their animal-personifications, in the sound of the sibilant snake, and I heard myself in them. Metaphors layered, as all things ascended and descended on the scale of being, and thus, the distinctions among the living world became unnecessary.

Seven is the age of knowing, when children are held responsible for their transgressions. Seven also is a number of special importance in numerology and the Old and New Testaments. God blessed the earth on the seventh day. The number seven symbolizes God’s perfection. The speaker of the poem, at seven, is at once accountable and godlike. She is part of the natural world that is both terrible and holy. She is Eve: the Eternal Feminine, and she is knowing in the biblical sense: The sexual. Her fall, as the chorus reminds us in the last stanza, is the fall of all mankind, and so the lines developed as tercets, for the most part, in tribute to Dante’s form, which seemed to fit the idea of descent.