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?”

sweetbitter (4/1/20)

Happy National Poetry Month!

meditation #1:

a handful of berries in the morning,

bitter then sweet in alternating grace.

they lie, smooth as pebbles, trembling slow.

these are the days that must happen to you,

and these are the fruits placed in front of us:

the chaff and Chaucer’s sentence al sooth.

you are you, neither Socrates nor Persephone.

you are the grinning totem, the lodestar.

 

so the sunlight falls across us in waves,

cleansing us for we expect nothing in particular,

tugging us nearer to the start of all things,

and nearer still to the stirring of branches above,

of wildflower yearning and velvet bees abuzz.

in the realm of sweetbitter, think not of me.

Holy Week: Curious Communion

The wind skimmed over the lake and tousled our hair, tugging at our billowy clothes and uniting us all in a delicious shiver. There would have been the linger of a characteristic Chicago chill if there had been no sun, but, praise God, the sun made a triumphant appearance for the first time in ages, and we were eager sunbathers, spread out upon the soft picnic blanket like languid tortoises. Everything was adazzle — the concave landscape, the bottle of sparkling cider, the slim, mature glasses we borrowed and tried so very hard not to break, us. We were incandescently alive in the fullest springtime sense: doubled over with laugher and squinting amiably with uplifted hands to block the sun’s rays or wave at passing dogs tethered to their owners as we talked about the future in between fistfuls of ripe blueberries. We had all brought what we could, each person with something unique to offer; it was not much to behold, but it was a merry little feast, steeped in gratitude. It has been ever on my mind since — the preparation, the retrieval, the unfurling, the reveal. I had wrapped the delicate glasses tenderly in white cloth to prevent their clinking and rolling and the blueberries from leaking violet. As I carefully unwrapped these picnic treasures and set aside the unsullied white linens, I couldn’t help but think of Easter and the empty tomb and the risen Christ, of a broken body and broken bread. How fitting that it was a blissful Sunday afternoon when we so unwittingly partook of our curious communion. I recently read (and deeply enjoyed) Andre Dubus’ Meditations from a Movable Chair, in which he writes, “The Communion is with us and it is ordinary. To me, that is the essential beauty: we receive it with wandering minds, and distracted flesh, in the same way we receive the sun and sky… The Communion with God is simple so we will not be dazzled; so we can eat and drink His love and still go about our lives; so our souls will burn slowly rather than blaze.”

Newton Was a Child Once

From primy youth

               we do dawdle in a

                        perpetual spring

 of our own creation.

                                                  All is budding vanity

                     to be grasped, tasted, and enjoyed

                                         until it, quite suddenly, isn’t.

                                                                                                                         We cling to the belief

                                                                          with pudgy primrose fingers

                                                                                                         that, if only we dare try,

                                                    we could fly — soar even —

                                           until gravity strolls

                                                                  into the whirring room

                                     of contraption and wonder

                                and coughs rudely — conspicuously —

      and, inevitably, we are told

to let go.