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.

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.

Rue for You

“I am learning peacefulness, lying by myself quietly / As the light lies on these white walls, this bed, these hands… / I didn’t want any flowers, I only wanted / To lie with my hands turned up and be utterly empty. / How free it is, you have no idea how free——”

Fragments of Sylvia Plath’s “Tulips” came to me today as I laid, supine, in the dim office, full of waiting. My body was humming. I became an itch. It was hard to breathe.
There was a vial in my left hand, and the other arm, outstretched, was draped like Ophelia’s. There must have been something to its geometry for I stopped, agog, heart quickening, when I noticed the likeness — transported back to the Tate Britain.
It was her portrait I lingered at the longest in the gallery dedicated to the Pre-Raphaelites, and I perched nearby with my eyes scarcely departing from her frame. I attempted to sketch her but could not do her justice. She was so vivid. It was a Millais.
I had written a paper on her suicide — well, on how it wasn’t really a suicide at all yet was, subconsciously — and Hamlet was fresh in my mind. I could still remember the symbolism behind all of the flowers and herbs in her garland. Daises, rue, rosemary, violets, fennel.

“It is what the dead close on, finally; I imagine them / Shutting their mouths on it, like a Communion tablet… / The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me. / Their redness talks to my wound, it corresponds.”

Ophelia did not know death was coming and yet, deep down, she sensed it all along. I am sure all of Shakespeare’s characters are haunted by that sense of perpetual morality, aware somehow that he could, in an instant, scratch their name from the script, blot their character out.
I didn’t know death was coming either and yet I did. I felt it deeply, primitively, fearfully.
I think that I always, to an extent, feel it, fear it. La même chose. And here it appears, garish, in the most unexpected of forms. Now I mourn the loss of the things
I did not cherish in their proper time, and the tears are bitter — full of Gatsby’s longing.
I think that his life will end tonight, but I pray that he does not leave this hollow world alone. I hope an inward part of him is soothed, guided, surrounded, comforted. Once of one stubborn mind, united in motion and quickness of being, in freedom and play, I mourn the death of an extension of myself. I hope he is able to greet the midnight hour when he quietly bids farewell.
Until then, the night is pregnant with untrodden paths and unspoken words, and,
alack, I drown, singing — desperate to fill the years of silence.