‘Nightstand with Roses’ by Jody Zorgdrager is a seven-stanza work that reveals one person’s side of a relationship breakup—the one who receives the flowers for an apology. While this tactic could easily be seen as a method of venting and confronting pain, the result of the strategy could also be that the reader learns of the underlying guilt the narrator is repeatedly trying to push down and the hostility residing within that narrator. Combined, this blend does not make for a trustworthy narrator, which means the reader could conclude that there is no reason to believe the narrator’s account. With that result, the flower-sender could actually be the one in the right. The possibility also exists that this poem truly is a venting session that is meant to do nothing but express deeply rooted frustration, but the contradictions feel a bit too grand for that to definitively be the case.
Overall, ‘Nightstand with Roses’ can be seen as an example of when consideration needs to be applied to claims so that the truth does not get overrun by strong emotions and hurtful reactions. The full poem can be found Nightstand with Roses here.
Nightstand with Roses Analysis
First, Second and Third Stanza
They weren’t red nor was I angry,
but with something five shades lighter
And besides, I did it gently, pulling petals
the way one tugs off an insect’s wings,
The narrator of ‘Nightstand with Roses’ does not take time to explain what is happening before she dives into a description, defense, and explanation regarding her reaction to what has already occurred. The reader, then, must infer from the lines what has happened, which is that she has received “roses” from a romantic connection who is apparently trying to repair a relationship. Despite the attempts though, the narrator does not seem to want to reconcile with the sender of these “roses.”
The basic setup of the poem, however, can make the reader doubt that commitment to separation since there is a clear contradiction happening. The main contradiction falls in line with the narrator’s statement that she “was [not] angry” after she received “the roses,” but her actions and commentaries tell a different story. Even the way in which she delivers the information without background details reflects someone in an aggravated state since someone thinking rationally might remember to give their listener solid details to avoid the inferring element of this storytelling design.
Further evidence that she, in fact, “was…angry” exists in that she “plucked the roses bald” and criticized their color, and then shifted back into defending her actions with the flippant statement of, “Anyway, they were sorry things.” Two things are at work in this line. One is that, as she already has given a defense that she felt no ill feelings before “pluck[ing] the roses bald,” her so-soon return to defending herself hints that her defense is shaky. Secondly, the notion of “the roses” being “sorry things” could be a clue regarding what they were sent to her for. Perhaps a past companion upset her somehow and sent these “roses” as a means of repairing the damage. They would literally be “sorry things” in that scenario.
Additionally, the personification of “the roses” by saying they are “nodding” allows an interesting twist in this paradox. This is because, while the frustration thus far has been connected to the person who sent the flowers, this new annoyance is apparently directed at the narrator herself. After all, they are “nodding” and “always trying to forgive,” and this would not be a concept linked to the person who needs to be forgiven—in this case, the flower-sender.
Rather, the concept would be a fitting representation for the person receiving the flowers as a token of apology since she would be the one capable of “forgiving.” Because the criticism includes “nodding” for those moments of “forgive[ness],” it would seem that this flower recipient has had her share of similar instances of “forgive[ness]” being wanted, and often delivered. However, given that she claims the process is “tiring,” she has come to the point where she is unhappy with handing over that “forgive[ness].”
Once more, after this idea of “forgive[ness],” she returns to the basic foundation of applying her defense by bringing in a new word that reflects her defensiveness, “Besides.” From there, her rationale of defense is that she “did it gently,” like a person who “tugs off an insect’s wings.”
This creates the possibility that she sees this flower-sender as uncomely and unwanted as an “insect,” but also that his ability to continually lure her into “forgive[ness]” has given him a stature above what one would expect from a regular human. After all, she “plucked the roses” as “gently” as a person would an “insect’s wings,” and “wings” can transcend heights and species beyond humanity. By mentioning “tug[ging] off” those “wings,” she is hinting that she will be bringing this flower-sender down to a lower level of being by detaching his glamorous “wings.”
Also worth noting is that the contradiction that was already established through her “anger” clearly being present is once again at work since, at the end of the day, it does not matter if a person removes “an insect’s wings” “gently” or harshly. In the end, they are still gone, and the task was still harsh. In this, the reader can infer that perhaps the flower-sender is not as clearly to blame as the narrator would want her audience to believe since, apparently, she is able to rationalize her reactions, no matter how unpleasant, in flippant, candid ways.
Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Stanza
by twos. What my thumb and fingertips
began to hear—yes, they listened for it—
was the shaggy center’s thick dribble,
to it—the letting go. I couldn’t stop
until I had the whole drawer full
of floating pink on pink.
Ordinarily, these stanzas of ‘Nightstand with Roses’ would have been broken into smaller increments to analyze, but the structure of the poem makes it so that finding a good ending point between stanzas is difficult. Not only do the sentences extend beyond the stanzas, but their meanings often overlap with one another in ways that cause division between them to be awkward.
This complication is another indication of the lessened qualities of innocence the flower-receiver is trying to insist upon since the format makes the poem feel like an ongoing rant about these “roses” rather than a rational discussion. Even with the place that was chosen to break these stanzas up in this analysis, the “by twos” concept is separated from its “insect’s wings” beginning, which could detract from the meaning. Perhaps that “two” represents the people in the relationship, or even the number of previous moments when a “sorry” gesture had to be handed over for the sake of “forgive[ness].”
The contradictions develop further in these stanzas since the level of hostility the flower-receiver feels is obviously much stronger than someone who feels no “anger.” Otherwise, the notion of that person “listen[ing]” to “the tiny rip of dismemberment” as the flowers come apart would feel out of place. Only someone with a deeply rooted frustration would be so insistent on experiencing every step of the process in such a drastic manner. Again, as well, the defensiveness comes into play as the narrator says, “yes, they listened for it,” as if she is anticipating that the reader will pose the question she is answering. If she assumes the question will be posed, then she likely knows the appearance of the situation is faulty enough to merit that kind of criticism, which shows a subtle admission of guilt.
A time of hesitation is revealed during the process of ruining the flowers in that “moment of small panic” near the beginning of the experience, which again allows the reader to know she felt some sort of guilt or uncertainty regarding her actions. However, she had already “given up” on the relationship and gesture, so she might as well dive right in. When “letting go,” she found that her “anger” was greater than her moment of indecision, and the destruction of the gift was so vast that the remains of “the roses” could make “the whole drawer full.” This indicates that once she pushed past her indecision, her reaction became too intense to control or reel in, which again is a contradiction to her earlier declaration of not being “angry.”
In fact, this contradiction is the theme of the poem. No doubt, she felt very real frustration while destroying those flowers, and she is insecure enough about that frustration to return again and again to defend her actions and thoughts to whomever she is addressing in the poem. In the end, though, the defense plays against her so strongly that the reader cannot help but doubt her side of the story since she has been established as an untrustworthy narrator, and because her own actions reflect an instability that springs from this prior relationship.
The reader cannot know what happened in the relationship. However, that reader can know how the narrator reacted, and the inner details of the simple gesture of ruining flowers showcase hostility and insecurity that could indicate the flower-sender may not have been the problem after all.
About Jody Zorgdrager
Jody Zorgdrager has her M.F.A. in the literary field and poems that have been published in a variety of sources, including The Sycamore Review. She has experience on numerous levels in the writing world, like journalism and prose writing, and she has been involved in medical and academic areas as well. She left her Connecticut hometown for Seattle, but she still continues to pursue her writing.