Posts Tagged ‘Flowers’


May 1, 2012



The flowering on the trees, even in Brooklyn, is so intricate that Nature seems out to flummox by design.  When no one is looking, even the pigeons are impressed.  With people out on the streets distracted by the complexity of blossoms, they are scoring more half-bagels than ever, the vermin’s equivalent of filet mignon.  Fucking Toffuti again, one pigeon says dismissively to the other in ineluctable pigeon-ese.  One tiny foot pins down the second-rate bounty, scraping the tofutti off into the sewer grid, where it joins the stew of prescription med run-off and children’s socks.  Both birds turn beady pigeon eyes upward, where the flower show is staged on the tree boughs, their necks ruffling with the dumb pleasure of it all.

It’s like this: beauty is impossible to hold in check, and it spreads over the hard edges and cement flavor of urban life like varicose veins.  Mugwort (Artemisia Vulgaris), a medicinal weed that thrives, like the lotus, in waste beds, grows hugging the side of my local Key Food.  It pushes up from the crack where its brick walls meet the uneven sidewalk like it is bench-pressing the universe.  My green medicine teacher talked about the alchemizing power of certain plants, how they can thrive in even the most polluted soil beds and yet contain no trace of those toxins in their cells; and the plants retain this power, untraceable as it might be, to draw the toxins from ours.  So the weeds arrive on the city scene, defying even concrete, from seemingly impossible conditions—as a balm for the haste of our lives.  Mugwort, like its viscous weed consort dandelion, is at peace with being generally ignored; it does its work anyway.  Healing is everywhere, y’all, the plants insist.  But y’all are wearing sunglasses at night.  So I’ll just sit here until you catch on.  The pigeons stroll by, too—more interested in the human foods, processed, and fabricate, than in what is wild.  They could much improve the tofutti’d bagel by shredding artemisia on top: a little bitter, a little better.

Guardian of the Weeds on Daffodil Hill

Spring is a series of mathematical explosions of beauty, stealth moves in the nights, speaking reassuringly to us.   Even though this winter was too warm, and the spring bears the kind of convoluted promise of a really good nap on one’s deathbed, it is hard not to blossom with the blossoms.  It is hard to hold back.


Lithic Cyclic

Mugwort is not just a patient whore in front of Key Food; she is also the bringer of women’s blood.  She moves what is stagnant in both the imagination and the womb; she’s as common as a sentence.

Some women really do not like their monthly shedding of blood—dread it, in fact, and all its messy excesses, strange smells and nebulous moods.  If they could skip it, they would, and there are drugs engineered to make this wish come true—the equivalent of taking the inhale, but skipping the exhale.  The desirability of all bodily functions exists on a relative scale.  For me, menstrual blood is the Mona Lisa of physiological processes– her smile is buried in the looker’s eyes, her mysterious and oddly drab aesthetic somehow managing to attract all the attention in an enormous museum.

Wait a minute, someone might object: what about fartsShow me the virtue in those!  As I learned from a wise naturopath in Istanbul, some people relish in the return of flatulence after a long spell on anti-depressants, which often interfere with the “normal” expressive transit of the digestive tract.  So that awful-smelling thing that somehow made its way out of your rear-end becomes due cause for celebration, and you to want to shout with glee: “Everybody, I farted!” As it is, few proudly declaim flatulence-pride in that way.  Nobody in “right mind” would do so in a full subway car or in a small elevator.  O contraire, as my J says: his little boys are wild about their own farts, the pull-my-finger pleasure of ownership.

That same kind of unchecked exuberance– boys exalting in their farts as if here, at last, was the awaited Messiah– erasing the fuzzy lines of propriety, was what came over me last night, when my menstruation started for the first time in a year.  The brown flecks on toilet paper, specific enough in color and texture to have safely exceeded the palette of my wishful thinking—I caught my breath, as I heard the party going on outside the bathroom door, fumbling conversation a tapestry in which our little lives were woven—Everybody, I’m bleeding!  Is this the kind of TMI that makes people not want to read blogs?  Well then, it’s the same TMI that a body naturally puts forth, while we, in our learned confusion, tidy it up, odorize it, and hold it in check—that is, until death personally removes the bounds and lets the body have its oozy way.  We often don’t like to think of people we know having actual bodily “functions”—but, surely, that is part of the beauty, surely the beauty actually runs on that.

Bloodflower in the world's panties

Holy holy holy.  I stay in the bathroom a long time in wonderment.  The Sistine Chapel has nothing on this crumpled piece of toilet paper.  I can hear E playing the flute in the back room, then the electric keyboard, then tambourine.  A had told me at the last party here about squatting in the November cold, barefoot, in the tiny park near her house, holding the arms of her partner, while she miscarried into the grass.  Our menstrual blood usually goes into the toilet bowl or the garbage.  But it is as holy as any lost thing.

And, really, the bleeding of even one woman should be cause for a whole party of people to celebrate—for each release of blood, by any woman, signals the alignment of the body, and therefore of every body, with the cycles of life that are both co-extensive with the individual and far vaster.  And when you’ve doubted, as I have, whether the arms of the cosmos were in fact broad enough to wrap around you, to rock you as if you were its only child–


My beloved teacher, R, tells his class to write a poem in praise of something unlikely.   He writes his own to dear shame, and then a birth-story poem to his mother, who blithely told (and told and told) her children that they were mistakes; only once she began to slide into the den of Alzheimer’s did she forget, occasionally, to remind them of this.

Can you praise the error of your own birth? It’s a litmus test for irony.  The poem turns warm the cold walls of those maternal words by enveloping them, too—them, too—in the praise of being alive.  Is this backwards, or perfect?  R has spent much of his beautiful life swimming in shame, as if shame were another layer of fascia organizing his limbs, ejecting him, time to time, from his own body.  How teens get kicked out of public parks at dark by authorities who don’t want trouble in the manicured non-wildness, which nonetheless still carries the seed-memory of its own wild state; the teens go off sulkily, leaving behind all the canopy of trees, disabused of the notion that parks are for recreation and pleasure in all its miscreant forms.  Praise, praise what troubles us.

R has been a beacon of light for so many human creatures in the oh-too familiar, brambly, and bloated tic-infested woods of our suffering.  It’s a neighborhood we’ve all lived in, even if briefly, often frozen and hoping for eviction notice.  His way is an ecosystem of brightness, how the light glints off of even what can kill us.  R is the kind of person that you’d ask to whisper a poem to you on your deathbed, or shout it, so that all the spirits, who gather round as the mind begins to un-tether and the body shuts down on its last call, might be given a strong beat for their liberation Cha-Cha.   He is proof that one can have parents so totally inadequate at giving love, and still become a flaming source of love in the world.  Like me, though, R has always known the liminal-state best, the spiritual semi-colon—the place between worlds.  But it will eat you for lunch if you’re not careful.

Fire Flower in the Dark

My own shame has been over my tenuous relationship with my menstrual cycle, which for so long made me feel like a squatter in the Cosmos, unable to align with her rhythms, the elevator always getting stuck between floors.  Mother May I?  Not sure.   Two steps forward, three steps back.  My body-weight has fluctuated, as if it were controlled by a private moon, causing it to wax and wane, wax and wane. Tiny but powerful, they say.  My dad tells me that, born two months premature, I laid on the baby-warmer, all two-pounds eleven-ounces of me, and strained against the fisticuffs that held me in place so that I could safely receive my neo-nate medicine: heat.  Busting out of the constraints, indeed: these metatarsals were made for walking.  My dad, I suppose, and not the table itself, held me in place with a smile-flower.

Corpse Flower

You can find some really strange flowers, if you look.  Not just the feeling of what explodes into bloom in the belly, chest, mind, or trees, but the wild, un-understood wild places.

The flower Amorphophallus Titanum seeds only a few times in its tall, heavy, long life.  Its posse is tiny: Raffelasia Arnoldi, a fellow plant in the Sumatran jungle playground.  It looks like carrion and smells like it too—something you might say in the schoolyard, meaning, only kind of, to be mean.

Sorry, you’ll have to Google it for images.

J and I are gifted with this specimen while searching online to find the name of some little purple-brown flowers that he had once painted.  His piece was an untitled oil of the muscular back of a part-man-part-beast, crouching on the ground, his bare skull proximate to these odd blossoms in an otherwise dark milieu.  Chocolate flower.  This plant no longer seeds itself—propagated instead by cloning, by human hand.  It is named for its smell: “chocolate,” God’s little synaesthesic joke.

Among the images of extinct flowers, we come across some real atrocities, making the toothed plant in Little Shop of Horrors look like a rosebud on a china plate by comparison.  When open for and to pollinating, the Titan Arum flower emits the smell of rotting flesh, attracting the pollinators for whom that is a sexy smell. See?  Nothing is disgusting to everyone.

Actually, this is a great solace in the world.  Certain creatures flock at a pace towards fresh carrion– flesh at its most flesh-like.  We, too, are creatures of decay, from birth onwards.  Right now, if we believe our statistics, the world is on over-stock of its fleshy products.  It can’t feed us all, the way we’re choosing to live, so it’s best if we hurry along and be food for/ feed something else.

Note the absence of photos.  But rot is everywhere, if you look for it.

The so-called carrion flowers bloom for only a few days, every many years.  There are folks, botanists, for whom this is the event of a lifetime, as it is for the flower.  That’s a lot of waiting, J says.  Amorphophallus Titanarum.  Don’t hold your breath, one might caution a hopeful audience; it could be seven more years.  Far-gone yogi(ni)s might be up for such a challenge; but they’ve been the flower, and their breathing rate is based as much on creation cycles as carbon dioxide build-up.  Their bodies undergo the reverse: open all the time, they wait to shed the already-odiferous flesh—we carry around, vivified, our dead body– for the moment of great liberation.  Long breath retentions are just warm-ups for accommodating, and being accommodated by, the infinite.

Admittedly, the botanical name of this flower, amorphophallus titanarum (fun to say, mirabile dictu!), sounds like a condom brand for taxonomists.  My etymological gloss renders it: Shapeless penis of the Titans?  O, and, by the way, you smell like death?  It can’t get much sexier, and it would definitely score you a big bang in Hades.  My love is like a red, red, carrion flower– these flowers meant to attract the pollinators who would, in lieu, be excited about carnage of any sort.  The little critters wander away from their hefty organic parasite, bloated, sated, dutifully helping life to go on.

You got me, death flower


I have been attracted to death in my own way for as long as I can remember.  Like John Keats wrote in his “Ode to a Nightingale”: “Darkling, I listen and for many a time/ I have been half in love with easeful death.”  His eyes tracking the flight of the nightingale, real or imagined, through the landscapes that buoyed his mind.  He’s such a whiner, my high school student says, when we read through his Odes and the love letters he wrote compulsively to his girl Franny, who lived a mere fence away—hardly a breath’s distance, really.  Why is it all about you, JK?  But breath was what he, saddled by tuberculosis, couldn’t quite muster.  He had to rely on the birds for both wind and song.   Later folks would argue about whether the nightingale was a real bird that he really saw.  As if the futile beauty of the endeavor, the slow drinking of the river Lethe as if it were an I.V. dripping along the movement of the poem’s lines, would be nullified by some anal fact-checker.  There was no nightingale, buddy.  Why don’t you just own up that it was a pigeon?

mind infloresence

Romantics had the tendency to co-extend the mind with environment—to elevate nature to a pristine thing, convenient poetic material for holy idealization.  But what about when the mind bumped into the one-hundred-and-twenty pound flower, four feet wide, gaping there, rootless, and smelling like the very thing that poetry was supposed to wash off?  This mortal vise?  The nightingale, if it was real, also had to shit while it flew—to stay light, as they say, “as light as a feather.” Not even a single spiral of extra bird feces to weight it down.

Down, down to where the blossoms are.   Praise, praise where the blossoms are.

Where the Wild Things Are



March 1, 2011

Calla Calling

jasmine shuggie and l's violets practice nondually

The guy who works at the fancy flower shop on the Friday afternoon shift is so bored he bites his fingernails and tries to spit them from the desk into the pots on display.  I spot him doing this through the glass door of the shop; he seems to be three for three.

I want to bring a Calla Lily home for M, who is visiting.  Between fingernails, the flower shop guy tells me how to manage the single blossom: the Calla Lily needs to be placed in only two inches of water.  So the stem, incapable of absorption, won’t rot.  Outside, February is brightening, and the little buds suggest what’s next.


The Calla lily is a fire red that fades to orange, then white, and then green, where it becomes stem.

AO dies lying on the couch with her feet up. This has surprised everybody in the poetry community.  Even the couch, I suspect, was surprised to have someone pass on it like that.

Death: some deranged punctuation?  And a fingernail looks just like a comma.

Rosy Corpse

One death, however removed, invites back all the other deaths.

In my dream, L’s corpse is lying in savasana on our parlor floor.  Every day, I get down on my knees and embrace her.  Her body has begun to crumble.  Her feet are reabsorbed into her tibia, leaving two clean stumps.  Despite these changes, which I note carefully, I don’t stop the daily practice of embrace.

Decay and bloom play rock, paper, scissors

I get up from hugging her.  Her body twitches.  In a moment of convoluted dream-logic, I have to pause: Can a corpse do this?  No: a corpse cannot do. Her body twitches and flops again, as if to defy category.  I think about the phenomenon of Chickens after their heads get cut off.  A certain amount of time postmortem and the body can still…well, do the chicken.

I retreat to the den.  Dad is sitting at his desk.  L rises and follows me in.  She is benign but she wants something.  I gesticulate at Dad—Hello? Help!

L extends her arms to me, for me.

What do you want? I ask.

I want to be loved, she says, as clear as anything.  I think of her on Radio New Zealand, at 102 years old, the last year of her life, archly regaling the host: Well, if all those people that come to read to me stopped coming, I wouldn’t DIE.

Pshaw, I want to say.  But who could say that?  And because all I want is to love her again, we are as good a match as peanut butter and jelly.

Since I am slowly being cornered, I reach out and hold her. It is the least we can do for the dead, when they entangle themselves in the deep strands of our imagination. She dashes out of the house.

I wake up before dawn.  The photo of L lying in state in her nightgown is propped against the wall on her monogrammed clipboard.  I recall that night, five long months ago, when the full moon hollered over Times Square and L hollered right back, dressed up and ready for a date with the Great Nothing.

True to form, when the undertaker entered her apartment the next day and saw her corpse lying there, surrounded by the fat, unembarrassed red and white roses, he exclaimed: For lack of a better word, she looks so…alive!

Only L could get a compliment from an undertaker.

the last word is no word at all

Lily Loot

My mother likes to have flowers around the house in the winter. It’s like forcing the hand of spring.  I go into the Apple Deli to buy her a bunch of tiger lilies—the flowers that throw the biggest pollen tantrum as they die.  She finds their smell tantalizing.

As I am paying, declining to have them wrapped in even more decorative paper, a woman storms into the store, heading straight for the open refrigeration cases, and looks accusingly at the Stoneyfield products, her hands on her hips.

Your yogurt selection is TERRIBLE! She fumes at the top of her lungs.

The tiger lilies blush a sickly orange.  The cashier, a stout Korean, makes change for me with one eyebrow raised.

You have to get SOME NORMAL YOGURT! She says.  This is pathetic. Where is all the REAL yogurt?

She storms out again.

Lilies, as flowers that grace many funerals, are used to being around unseemly and unpredictable shows of emotion.

Then the cashier laughs.  Her laugh sounds like coins jangling.  That lady comes in everyday and shouts at the yogurt, she says. There are so many stores, why doesn’t she just go to another store?

Her pudgy grandson is standing beside her.  As she looks out over the display of mushy avocados, unseasonal fruits, neat cases of packaged vegetables, he keeps taking ginger candies, unwrapping them, and placing them inside his mouth.  I have yet to see him chew, or even slightly move his jaw.

Did you ever ask her what yogurt she is looking for? I suggest.

The proprietor shakes her head.  No, she says.  No, no.

The lilies bow their perfumed heads in tandem.  Yes, yes, yes. It’s the only word they know

I think of Joseph Campbell in tweed Jacket, the tattered copy of Ulysses a fixture under his arm, traveling in India.  His mystical impulse lit up like a beeper.  When he encountered the holy Swami, his question came up of its own accord, as if acid reflux from an indigestible world: How do we bear a world in which there is so much suffering?

And the Swami: People like you and I, we must say yes to all of it.

if yes were a direction


Sometimes, I cannot figure out what stops us from calling a spade a spade.  As if I should pretend you don’t suffer, and you should pretend I don’t suffer.  As if we should pretend we don’t look into the same dark, when night falls, or the same brightness, when day returns.

twisted sister has eyes in the back of her head

At the shoreline in Prospect Park, the big swans, icons of winter, are badgering whoever dares to visit the lake.  They have learned to want bread and it makes them aggressive.  The ducks congregate where the freeze is incomplete, a slice of liquid as aberrant on the stiff turf as a rosebush in February.  Together, the birds honk irritably for the crappy sandwich bread, puffy and synthetic as shoulder pads from the eighties.  The long reeds and cattails stand straight up when the wind is still.

even reality has roots

For weeks, the trees have looked to be inverted icicles, and the park is coated in white.  It is as if a great sheet has been thrown over the merry corpse of the earth.  You can see far, when the expressive parts of plants are dormant. The eye, says John O’Donohue, is the mother of distance.

You need a spade to plant a flower.  You need a spade to dig one up.

To obtain understanding, the Buddha exposed himself recklessly to the elements.  This made him, for us, a translator of the elemental.  He’d be sitting here right now, if it were still his era, transfixed by the parade of life in front of him.  And with his butt firmly committed to the ground beneath him, he’d surely feel the trembling of the bulbs and blades, as they discern the time to move towards the light.

time to