nouvelles fleurs

nettle (n.) – in floriography, signifying pain

Its scientific name, Urtica dioica, comes from the Latin word uro, which means “to burn.”

***

Without another word, the woman at the farmer’s market sliced the block of nettle soap and pressed a portion into my palm. She refused to take my coins. A gift.

***

“There is a willow grows aslant the brook / That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream; / Therewith fantastic garlands did she make / Of crowflowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples.” –Hamlet, Act IV, Scene VII

***

Pressing in my quietude, in my waiting, in my waking, glimmers of You.

***

“Everything will be forgotten / And either I am too alone / or I am not / alone enough / to make each moment / holy / […] And I have heard God’s silence like the sun / and sought to change.” -Franz Wright, God’s Silence, 88

***

It is twilight, and the heron is a fixed sliver of loneliness, poised to strike. A breathless observer, I stand, palms pressed against rough stones, and wait, gazing down at the sea as he lets the tide swell around his feet. We are in contest with one another, wooing stillness, and in my heart the knowledge crystallizes that there is so much that goes on, that will go on, without us.

***

“I hate everything I’ve done… the desire for glorification after death seems to me an unreasonable ambition. Mine is limited to wanting to capture something that passes; oh, just something, the least of things!” -Berthe Morisot

***

“Mum-my! Mum-my!” The little girl shouts in bifurcated syllables, running across the courtyard with her younger sister. They shriek and giggle and toddle across the grass. That was on the sunniest day, when I wandered into the quad and sat with my book, waiting patiently to be revived like a wilted flower. And I watched them, whirling like a pinwheel or a gust through prairie grass, and glanced back at the page before me, an essay on Morisot’s self-portraiture, how she was never not engaged in the act of looking. Her paintings and her daughter, her great loves, her creations, never able to be extricated from one another. Julie’s sketched form, dappled in sunlight, and these girls just above the printed horizon, settling down to a springtime picnic.

***

Margaret – meaning “pearl” or “cluster of blossoms”

***

The woman stays for a long time, alone. I serve her a scone, tea, and two caramel shortbreads. Her reading glasses are broken, but she doesn’t seem to notice. “Are you a Christian?” she asks, her face tilting upwards. I smile and nod, “Yes, I am.” She begins to beam, “Look at God go.”

When I slipped off my new shoes that night, my feet were covered in blood. I couldn’t help but think of Santiago and stigmata in The Old Man and the Sea. I’ve always wondered what delineates stigmata from other regions and variations of pain. Is it divinely inflicted? Is it accepted without relief? Can wounds be holy or only what lies beyond? Dickinson’s “Heavenly Hurt, it gives us – / We can find no scar, / But internal difference – / Where the Meanings, are.”

***

It is thought that over 80% of stigmatics have been women, including St. Catherine of Siena.

In botany, stigma is the part of a pistil that receives pollen during pollination.

***

“lushly clinging / and growing / around the / house twittering / darkening / everything / I will come to you memory shining” -Franz Wright, God’s Silence, 78

***

“What might have been and what has been / Point to one end, which is always present. / Footfalls echo in the memory / Down the passage which we did not take / Towards the door we never opened / Into the rose-garden.” -T.S. Eliot, The Four Quartets, 13

***

Wandering down the street I had traversed hundreds of times, with thoughts clouded by worry and absence, I looked up suddenly and noticed all the trees were budding green—had budded, would blossom.

***

“Walking home, for a moment / you almost believe you could start again. / And an intense love rushes to your heart, / and hope. It’s unendurable, unendurable.” -Franz Wright, God’s Silence, 5

***

He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.” -Ezekiel 37:2-3 (NIV)

***

The radiant poem etched in my mind for days: “I longed for spring’s thousand tender greens, / and the white-throated sparrow’s call / that borders on rudeness. Do you know— / since you went away / all I can do / is wait for you to come back to me.” -Jane Kenyon, “The Clearing”

***

She turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” -John 20:14-17 (ESV)

He says to her: noli me tangere—touch me not, do not hinder me, cease holding on.

sea garden

The Lord God is a sun and shield… He will withhold no good thing.” -Psalm 84:11

Yesterday: one of those afternoons with glimmers of satisfaction, reflections of abundance that dazzle worn eyes, like those dancing upon a trout-filled river. Bustling home from the library, with books by H.D. and Rilke tucked under my arm. The bundle of daffodils (on sale) I simply could not resist, existing in scattered vases now. Brighten, rejoice, usher in. The cashier paused when she spotted them, cradling their radiance in her hands, and leaned forward to sniff–her tired expression easing into delight. We said so little but knew so much in that fleeting instant of tender human recognition. “Daffodils are my mother’s favorite,” I explained. “They’re mine too,” she answered, passing the blossoms to me for safekeeping. Shine, now, shine.

Scrolling, searching for olive oil cake recipes. With apples? Lemon? Matcha? I settle on one with crushed raspberries and orange zest. My second knitted hat: now complete, in a mustard yellow only Van Gogh has taught me to love. There was just enough yarn. I kept praying it would be so, calculating with every stitch. Please be enough or it will have all been for nothing. Ever afraid of the undoing, of fraying ends unmet. It was enough. What more can I say? It was enough.

Kindness in every face. Free vegan cookies from the man who always takes my coffee order: an oat milk chai with a dash of cinnamon. Talking with a friend about the places that shape us, about letting go. She remarks that she is in a phase of life where she has two paths for her next step, each leading to an entirely different life. She could be content with each, but they remain wholly different. Therein, she would be different. I nod and listen, understanding her ache more than I can express. Somehow, it all comes back to Plath and the fig tree, always.

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was… amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was… a pack of lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.” -Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

A bowl full of clementines, a bowl full of pears. My friend’s cactus, Bert, awaiting her return from England. The precarious pile of books by my bed: Impressionism, Fashion, & Modernity; Women Artists: The Linda Nochlin Reader; Letters to a Young Poet; Memorial; Every Riven Thing. These are moments I’ll never get back, and I wish I could fully live them. Sometimes I do. Someone said the other day that we are all trapped in “survival mode,” experiencing collective trauma, and we cannot begin healing until the trauma is over. After all, a wound cannot close with the knife still inside. Like Danez Smith, I pray ruin ends here. Let this be the healing / & if not let it be.

“Right when I first saw you, I knew you were a writer.” “Really?”

lift my eyes

It is getting harder and harder to get out of bed.

“Why?” I think. Then, “To go where? To see whom?” Lockdown. Again.

This afternoon, I rolled out of the warm covers, exchanged pajama pants for jeans, and bundled up, shuffling down to West Sands. Along the way, I pass my favorite coffee shop, which was supposed to reopen today. Its interior remains dim, with a new paper sign saying they will hopefully be back in February. I think of all the shattered plans, and there are many.

The streets are sparse, and the beach is even emptier. A family climbs a nearby boulder, one element of the worn barrier against the sea. I walk along the edge, in the wrong shoes for exploring, and sit, cradled by a curvature in the rocks—not sheltered from the wind exactly but blocked from the view of passerby. Thus situated, I resignedly observe the tide come in slow, and the few silhouettes on the beach pass and pass, trudging despite unamiable forces of wind and sand. The wind is fierce but not at its fiercest, and I close my eyes, willing it to whistle through my skull, to rush through, so sharp and frigid and pure, zephyring out my crammed notions and questions and fears. The ocean seems as expansive as misery, and just as grey, and I want to cry; I want it so badly that it makes it nearly impossible to occur—wretched paradox. “God, where are you?” I ask, and only the waves answer. I rest in the reverberation, feeling heavy and prematurely wizened while seagulls cruise and glide in front of me, alighting in squadrons within shallow tidal pools. Fleetingly, I long to be a bird.

A sudden inner thought, like a cloud bursting with rain: “I will remember the works of the Lord in the land of the living.” [Later, I realized that my brain or heart or a combination of the two had merged Psalm 27 and 77—”I will remember the works of the Lord” (77) and “I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (27)—both of which I’ve read recently.] Then, I lifted my eyes, noticing distant hills I had never before spotted on prior beach walks due to obscuring mist from the waves. Beyond Tentsmuir Forest, snowy hilltops arise—arresting and majestic. Glancing behind me, perhaps to see what else I may have missed, I turn from the shade of my chilly perch just in time to see the sun peek triumphantly above the clouds, in a blinding halo. Words form in my heart from a quiet elsewhere: “Step into the light.” Despite the gravity of the moment, my thoughts flit to the numbness creeping into my hands, and I know I cannot stay. As I step into the sun, the small black bird keeping me company tries to follow.

“We hope for magic; mystery endures.” -Mary Oliver

***

A note based on recent observations: In many ways, this is not a time of easy answers, only multiplying questions. Everyone is going through a degree of torture right now, and denying that fact is blind, foolish, and insensitive. As we enter 2021, we have all lost someone or something. I am deeply thankful that this world is not my home and that I am able to live established in the knowledge I do not walk alone. I can lay my worries and mourning at the feet of a Savior who has intimately known this pain already and rejoice that the extremities of hurt or despair we feel can never compare to the boundless joy that is coming.

While these times are “unprecedented” to us, they are known by God.

cosmic ache

Words I find myself repeating quietly on walks by the river: “The world doesn’t know / what to do with my love. Because it isn’t used to / being loved… I hope it’s love. I’m trying really hard / to make it love. I said no more severity. I said it severely / and slept through all my appointments.” -Richard Siken, War of the Foxes, 40

***

The exhale you didn’t know you were holding. The early twilight. The candle flickering. The music on for dancing. The fragrant apple crumble coming out of the oven, slightly burnt but already beloved.

***

“I had nothing to build with. / It was winter: I couldn’t imagine / anything but the past. I couldn’t even / imagine the past, if it came to that. / And I didn’t know how I came here. / Everyone else much further along. / I was back at the beginning / at a time in life we can’t remember beginnings.” -Louise Glück, Vita Nova, 38

***

On Bonfire Night, a sudden flurry of sound—the harried rush to rest one’s elbows on the windowsill like a child at first snow. The fireworks are rising over Castle Sands, in arcs of red and gold. Several heartbeats brimming with light and pitch, then darkness again.

***

When Brigit Pegeen Kelly wrote “These are the long weeks. The weeks / of waiting. Let them be / Longer. Let the days smolder” (68), she might as well have been talking about Advent. I think of Tish Harrison Warren’s wording: a cosmic ache.

***

“Can this be paradise, with so much loss / in it? / Paradise / is defined by loss. / Is loss. / Is.” -Margaret Atwood

***

At the Kelvingrove Museum, I stood there the longest—in front of James Guthrie’s In the Orchard. Art has the strange and wonderful power to arrest you, drawing you near in surreptitious magnetism. The painting is giant, spanning an entire wall, crafted in hues of emerald and umber. I couldn’t stop looking at the girl, kneeling in a black dress, her face inscrutable and resigned. She seemed as if deep in thought, or perhaps she had just stopped crying. The boy extends his basket of apples, looking down passively. She is the focal point, and even the geese in the background incline their heads, eager to see what will happen next. It is a story told a thousand times over but each time rewritten. The girl extends her arm, preparing to place an apple into the basket, pausing just before. A recreation of Eden. She seems to sense all that hangs in the balance. She is striking a deal and knows not what comes next. She is bonded now. Her eyes fix on the apple, even as she clutches another with her left hand, as if reconsidering. She does not want to let go. An analogy for love?

***

A quote from The Great Gatsby so beautiful it haunts: “He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God.”

***

In the cathedral yesterday, tears came. Unexpected visitors, unexpected guests. Months since I had partaken in communion. The priest saw me outside, craning my neck and trying to capture the arcs of stone while waiting for a friend. “Taking pictures, eh?” he said with a chuckle, and I shrugged, sheepish, “It’s a gorgeous building.” It was when the children came filing in, knotted to each other or hovering mothers and fathers. It was when the priest knelt in his violet robe to look a little girl in the eye, a toddler with messy blonde hair and her fingers in her mouth. He gave her the body of Christ, solemnly and joyfully at once, and her mother smiled on, pregnant with another. And I thought of Mary. And the violinist played on, a melody searing and true. And I could hear the music all around but could not see the source, so I turned to my friend at last: “Where’s the violinist?” I asked, bewildered. “Oh, just behind the column. You simply can’t see her yet.” And the music filled the room. And I felt as if my life couldn’t quite be my life, as if I’d been inserted into a film unawares. And I knew there was a lesson in it all—if only I could find it, if only I could write about it.

***

“I want to leave / no one behind. / To keep / & be kept. / The way a field turns / its secrets / into peonies. The way light / keeps its shadow / by swallowing it.” -Ocean Vuong, Night Sky with Exit Wounds, 39

***

Why is it that I read Louise Glück’s Vita Nova over and over these days but, when my friend asks me what it is about, I cannot answer? All I can say: “Memory.”

***

“He changes times and seasons… He reveals deep and hidden things.” -Daniel 2:21,22a (NIV)

***

“Dear [G]od, if you are a season, let it be the one I passed through / to get here. / Here. That’s all I wanted to be. / I promise.” -Ocean Vuong, Night Sky with Exit Wounds, 72

***

Anne Carson writes in “The Glass Essay” about women with a vocation of anger, but I think there’s a vocation of remembrance too—and I think it aches.

***

When Glück writes, You changed me, you should remember me.

When Glück writes, I thought my life was over and my heart was broken. Then I moved to Cambridge.

***

I want to be crammed so full of beauty that it overflows.

Ramblings on Manna, Milk, & Honey

Only God. Things are coming together in a way that can only be defined by the divine.

I opened the Bible today and started reading, listless and tired. The end of Leviticus was before me and, soon, Numbers. “We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” I jumped. This was the same verse mentioned in church on Sunday. One of the worship leaders had quoted this verse, explaining: “This idea of ‘being seen as a grasshopper’ was entirely in their head. They had come into the land as spies, and they were not caught. They hadn’t really been seen at all. Often the Enemy attempts to make us feel less than, to trap us in feelings of fear and inadequacy, until we become convinced that we are only a grasshopper and everyone else knows it too.” [paraphrased]

A mere paragraph before this, Numbers 13:27 reads: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey!” Well, it’s pretty strange that my mentor and I literally decided today that we are meeting for a farewell lunch tomorrow at a restaurant called Milk and Honey?! It was the only restaurant in the vicinity I could find with a menu suited to my dietary restrictions, so, in a way, it is a promised land for me.

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” My mom brought up this prayer from Numbers 6 recently, and we were trying to remember the exact wording… and I suddenly stumbled upon it in the text today. We also had a conversation over dinner a few days ago where I brought up the motif of the Lord hiding His face in the Old Testament when the Israelites disobey vs. the radiance His face brings. When the Lord hides his face, His people are abandoned and in darkness and cry out, as in the Psalms. In contrast, “My servant Moses… with him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the Lord.” However, intimacy and closeness with the Lord, like that of Moses, leads to abundant, undeniable light.

On Sunday morning, I did not want to leave my bed. I unlocked my phone, peering through bleary eyes, and opened Twitter, only to be instantly devastated by the news of the two latest shootings: 250 in the 215 days of 2019. I felt sick, stupefied, and unmoored. Now, as I write this, there have been 255 total recorded shootings in the United States. I wanted to cave inward and pull up my grey blanket to shut out the light. “I don’t want to go church.” I thought stubbornly. Even churches aren’t safe anymore. So many lives were just lost, have been lost, will be lost. How could prayers ever be enough? I just wanted to grieve, alone. “What better place to go now than to Church?” The Holy Spirit gently prodded. I rolled out of bed.

Toni Morrison died today, and I feel an ache deep in my soul. I feel an ache for so many things that are lost — the lives taken every day by gun violence, the innocence of the children sleeping on concrete floors in cages at the border, the humanity of our nation. In church, the sermon halted to let worship take over. How could it not? We were all searching, all wanting to find, all needing to be filled beyond our own strength in order to cope, to act, to be light in these times. People filled the aisles, getting down on their knees. Women wept. Men stood, arms outstretched to the sky in surrender. How could they not? I read an article recently about how the planet’s current condition is what it was not supposed to be until 2070. We are outliving our stay here, desecrating the gift we were tasked to steward. I don’t know if I want children anymore. How could I?

On Sunday, the pastor mentioned the Lord’s promise to heal the land, once His people turned in repentance and pledged themselves to Him. Leviticus 26:42 reinforces this, “I will remember my covenant… and I will remember the land.” Lord, we are believing this.  We can do nothing but believe this; in our turbulent present, please hold us fast to Your promises. Let our amen to Your will be deafening. Help us to collectively draw so near to You that we are blinding in these dark days. Empower us to create a new resonance — to pray and worship and abide as we call our senators, as we boldly stand up to corruption. The pursuit of holiness and the pursuit of justice are ever-intertwined.

I realized today for the first time that manna could have been anything. Why did God choose to send down manna, of all things, from heaven? It could have been any culinary wonder of His own creation. A new kind of fruit, perhaps.

Why manna? Simple sustenance. Daily bread. Communion fare.

I had something else that I was supposed to write, but these words were louder.

March 5: Eve

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?’ The woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’’ ‘You will not certainly die,’ the serpent said to the woman. ‘For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.”        -Genesis 3:1-6 (NIV)

You were so lithe, so small.

We shared an elegance, you and I —

an acuity I did not find in Adam.

So I viewed us, vowed us, fastened as friends

for nothing ever seemed amiss in the garden —

all was emerald, juniper, moonstone awake,

a shining under the sun that dazzled without blinding.

 

For God was like that

when He walked among us,

so tender-softly you could not hear the

blades of grass bend beneath His feet.

You were just as quiet, but not soft.

You came with your violent geometry,

all diamonds and angles and sin,

and from A to B

 

                                                           we fell.

An Experiment in Midrash

Inspired by the beautiful words of Amy Bornman (https://www.amybornman.com/) of All Well Workshop and Marie Howe, I decided to design a project for myself in the month of March to allow for consistent moments in my days dedicated to rest, renewal, prayer, and quiet meditation. I had the opportunity to participate in an unforgettable poetry seminar last semester that nurtured my ardent love of the art and exposed me to Marie Howe’s Magdalene and her Mary persona poems in The Kingdom of Ordinary Time. As I furthered my search in this genre, I encountered similar captivating poetry by Madeleine L’Engle, and it astonished me that, even with a tale told over and over like the birth of Christ, there was still so much content left to be creatively explored. As members of the Church, we know all about the manger and the angels and the frankincense and myrrh… but what about Mary? What were her excitements and doubts and fears and dreams? We sing together at Christmas, “Mary, did you know?” and I think she knew. I think she knew and felt so much about who her son was destined to be, though we never explicitly discover this. We are simply told that she “treasured up all of these things in her heart.” Midrash allows us to ponder what Mary pondered.

I am now one week into “Midrash March” — a poetic experiment intended to motivate me to delve into passages of Old Testament Scripture, derive new meaning there, and seek to give a voice to the (often minimized) women of the Bible through poetry. My goal is to write one midrash poem per day on a different biblical passage throughout March. In my Old Testament class, I have been struck by the sheer amount of women mentioned in the selections we are assigned. Yet many are present merely as the mothers of sons or as the wives of husbands, and their own thoughts and desires are seldom expressed. Midrash serves as liberation for these women from the constraints of a patriarchal society that often commodified them. Now, you may be wondering what exactly “midrash” is. It is a traditionally Jewish practice focused on attempts to interpret and apply the texts of the Torah/Old Testament to our modern age. These efforts may be literary, musical, or artistic in nature — often reconciling the holy with the mundane. By engaging with a sacred text and wrestling with its implications, we thereby affirm its sanctity and relevance in our lives. Midrash is a task to be undergone with awe for we stand in the presence of a living, active God who has proven to be faithful throughout the ages.