I saw some in Zakopane, the first town over the Polish border. Piled in front of grocery stores, held tight in the fists of old kerchiefed women on street corners who pulled kernels from the heads. I didn't recognize them, stripped of their petals like that.
I had planted some months before, like my grandmother once did, along with the tomatoes, the peppers in her victory garden. She spent the war years outside of Boston, trading coupons for extra butter rations. My mother turned thirteen on VJ Day. She wore red lipstick for the first time, rode the streets on the back of a firetruck all night. My grandfather, an air raid warden, pierced the velvet suburban night with his lantern, pounding on doors all the way down the street. "It's a drill, lights out!"
Singer, Schwartz, Rosenberg. The names of my grandparents' neighbors on Hobart Road. The names scrawled across the piles of suitcases behind glass in the museum at Auschwitz. I didn't cry until I saw the mountain of small brown oxford shoes.
Riding home from the airport, I remembered the sunflowers. They had grown tall enough to nod to me over the fence when I climbed out of the taxi. They surrounded me, when I stepped into the garden and pressed my barefeet into warm dirt. I stood amidst them, looking up into blue sky. I was sure I could hear the sunflowers breathing along with me.