I sat out there in the garden just a while ago. And while the world outside was raging in hot winds and fires and pestilence and murders and all sorts of heinous human things, in the garden still, now and then, was a cool breeze, a lack of devil sun, a quiet moment, a split second of what? I cannot say joy. There is little joy. I cannot say peace. There is little peace. Beauty. As though beauty was a tunnel you could crawl through to find the calm and peace again.
There was a lack of human being. Because even one is a problem. That in itself is sometimes pure joy, pure happiness, pure nirvana. No people anywhere. There was a strange tiny bird I had never seen before, moving about in the tree, wondering perhaps if it should go to the birdbath, wondering perhaps if the water is cool and clean.
Late last night a finch flew by. I never see them at night. Only in the morning or on bright sunny afternoons flying in and out of the coneflowers in the park. They love coneflowers. And my heliopsis too. Sometime in June I woke up early and there was a finch perched on top of the newly blooming heliopsis, one of the glories of the front garden. Sometimes they are a bright citrusy yellow and other times like now, they are orange- yellow, deep, almost burnished gold, or some yellow not yet on the color wheel.
And then I realized that little finch was feasting on the flowers, not one or two or three but the entire bunch. Perched at the very tip and still not smashing the flowers or stems and I wondered how it managed it. It ate them perched right side up and upside down and even sideways. So annoying to see your flowers being devoured. Except when it is a little lemon and black finch.
So the early evening finch last night must have been tired from all the sun. It was a wretched exhausting evil violent sun. Terrifying. I had all these errands to do. I had all this walking to do yesterday and wondered if the heat, the sun, the hot wind would kill me and I would end up like a fried egg on the pavement.
I hoped to be out by 8:00 or 9:00 a.m. but watered the garden again instead. Three times in twenty four hours. The garden though tired from all the sun and heat is surviving even in some cases thriving. The side entrance is flanked by massive pots filled with blue larkspur, delphinium, balloon flower, blueberry phlox, and mauvy pincushioin flowers. They look like giant bracelets and rings, assorted baubles from Ali Baba’s caves. The blues are deep indigo blues. Cobalt blues. Baby lavender blues. Teary eyed blues. Powdery blues. Deep sky blue. Whale blue.
Whales… going back out to sea waving bye bye…. the water they swim in blue, my younger self blue, mom’s cornflower eyes blue. The way they looked that year in her tan face among her weathered tan arms and that brown dress with the tiny orange flowers and her coral nail polish on her aging toes and fingers. Yet her face looked so young that year, so hopeful, so alive, as though she would still be here next year and next. Her hair as yellow as my flowers.
I was at the train station a year later waiting and it was hot that year too, but one day on the platform to go to work, I looked up at the marvelous blue sky cooling us off for one day at least, just for a while, shooting out some tiny breezes for us to breathe, and I saw her there as though she was trailing pansies, as though she was getting up to go, as though she was about to cut me a piece of plum cake, as though she was about to stir up apricots and rice, as though she was walking towards me with those hot, thin, freshly made potato pancakes, slightly crisped at the edges, creamy inside and loaded with tiny nubs of potato flesh, still sizzling a little from oil and butter, as though she was about to breathe again and say hi. I remember then she didn’t say hi. She never even said goodbye.
Looking up at the sky, that other vast universe that always looks so appealing when I am at the train station, that always beckons with its beauty, its remarkable powers of resuscitation, to feed the soul and body and mind….reminding you of your futile travels and worries and moneymaking ambitions and all the bills you are constantly paying in your head and all the lists of things to buy and sell, recycle or throw out, give away, sew and repair, wash and dust …… the exhaustion of it all until you look up again… And then I saw it. That day it comes back to me clear as the rain that never falls again but I remember it and how I prayed that day.
It rained. It was not windy. The rain was so sweet you could almost taste it. If you should water your garden with that rain it would reward you with lavish and colorful blooms such as you never saw and will never see again. Like that mass of red roses trailing down the house and garage and trellis and white wooden gates of that little town we first lived in. My mother the beautiful, my mother the great one, my mother the happy one, my mother the soulful one, my mother the queen of the gardens, the queen of the flowers, the queen of the torts made with luscious milk and honey and cream. It seemed biblical then. Detroit. Fresh off the boat City with imaginary fruits falling off thick green vines.
And my mother is gone so suddenly then. We never had a chance to discuss it all and why we came. To that particular town that particular year on that particular sea. Who brought us and why and how. I remember seeing flying birds and fish and reptiles on an overlook on the boat even then. Mother was always below throwing up with all the other children and women. But he and I were flying high like Ahab, catching all the salt and sea and wind.
That beach, now I think of it. The one here in the new and happy land. The one that is eroding now. That beach that we sat on played on dreamt on, full of those Slavic people that I wish would go away. I was so tired of Slav town, I was so tired of hearing my own language everywhere I went and seeing the sullen tired faces of those coming here to escape the violent bastards there who took away their land and language, their cucumbers and potatoes, their freshly made bread and the good butter and the honey from happy bees. So then on that beach I did not want to be reminded of where I came from, where you were born, where you learned to speak the tongue that I am now forgetting. But now I hate it here and want to go back there, but it’s gone.
I still pray in it. My old Ukrainian tongue. I prayed before I ate my piece of toast with my one egg this morning. I have learned to make perfect eggs. The pan must be very hot. That Caphalon thing that took me twenty years to learn. And the butter– just a pat cannot sizzle too much. I should have had oatmeal but I like eggs better.
Yes my ailing friend too likes eggs. I can still eat eggs she says. Scrambled. With a little cheese and butter and maybe some herbs. Even Steve with all those tubes all over his body can sometimes have a bite. Either that or chocolate milkshakes. How I craved a chocolate milkshake yesterday. Like Maria Callas in that story I heard about her…wanting to stop so badly for an ice cream with her friend, before going home to her silent apartment and the sound of her own death.
But I was thinking about my mother that day at the train station. That was so long ago but I must remember how the sky looked that day. The exact configuration of the clouds. They were the mountainous ones. Or maybe just hills. At the highest, like the Carpathians. There was a mass of them but it was an orderly mass as though a procession. My mother was clearly there and she was trying to tell me something. I know this for a fact and whenever there is a death and the ones left behind are mourning I try to explain it to them.
So now you have to take your mind, force it even, to go back there. You can force your mind to do anything. Feel anything or nothing. See anything or nothing. Live or die or forget. If I can just remember the configuration of the clouds. The color even. The many shades of white. There was no yellow as I recall but some blue. Blues and greys and lavenders. Just hinting at something. Not a big bold statement of blue like the side entrance to the garden…. oh I wish you could see these blues.
I know now you will never see the blues. Just like you missed all those purple poppies. Deep purples and dusty, rose colored purples. Blue grey black in a certain light. The purples of sorrow the purples of death, the purples of sadness. But all together in the garden in that mass underneath the burgundy smoke bush those purples looked enthralling and they had black eyes. Now they all stand with their poppy seed heads like fading mauve soldiers. And you will never see them again nor will I.
That Big Smile. Big Smile– they are now growing everywhere in the garden. Just a few months ago when I thought summer would be happy summer would be fine, summer would be normal. I took that huge mass of lilies and divided them into four other plants and planted them all over the garden. My friend MK brought them to me. Years ago. That beautiful happy woman. So tall and lanky. Health glowing from top to bottom. Something of the Wisconsin farm still in her. Though she was not a farmer…. The brightest smile the blondest natural hair. Close cropped to show her beautiful Jean Seberg face. So strange she never quite liked herself, never thought she was smart or pretty. I remember sitting there in the garden with her, crying over the loss of things….. the big houses rising up all around me…the killing off of the trees across the street… I still remember the screeching birds flying in a panic…straight to my house straight to my roofs and gutters and shrubs.
She was always so calm. Yet now I know she was panicking inside too just like me. Hiding in that small cottage in the city of knowledge the city of hope the city of culture the city of books and gardens and art. I remember the wonderful Cobb salad she made for us that day. The lush taste of avocado, the crisp yet tender lettuces she probably picked from her garden. The red tomatoes and all the sweet juices pooling in the plates. She took us on a tour of the house and for some reason spent a lot of time showing us her basement and furnace. She was also a very handy person, who could use a wrench and hammer as well as a knife.
She’s dead now too. That picture of beauty and exuberant health. The strong even white teeth and big smile. I realize now that she is haunting me almost as much as my mother. Those two can’t possibly be dead.
She would come to parties but always brought her dog. She left him in the car. A big collie? I don’t even know what a collie is. She left all the windows open so it was not cruel and got up frequently to check on him. I don’t know why she didn’t bring him to my mother’s garden. She could probably sense we did not like dogs.
They all have several stems each of the four Big Smiles, with big fat buds, and one opened just a few days ago. They are yellow but not too yellow. Faded pale yellow with just a touch of lavender and blue. Slightly frilly at the edges like the sleeves of an old-fashioned blouse. I have her now smiling all over my garden. I should take a picture of them and send them to that monk who sent me a letter telling me she died. I never knew she was a Buddhist. Didn’t know she was sick, don’t believe she is really gone. The Big Smile lilies don’t make me smile anymore they only make me sadder and make me miss her more.
The only thing that kept me going yesterday was seeing that finch and I was almost happy again and now I am trying to think of what else happened yesterday because yesterday I took a very long journey into something and somewhere that I have to finally understand.
The walk to town was very hot but then I liked it. Liked the hotness liked the adventure of wondering whether or not I would die from the heat…… I wore a scarf and straw hat. I wore loose pants and top. I passed deserted gardens… but many stupid men were still working on the big new houses and tiny new yards and there was a bit too much sawing and buzzing… then later the bank it was so dark and cool in there… the tedious business of banking over and then waiting for the bus and the man I see so often hatless and sun- glassless– he was staring straight up at that sky… with a shopping bag sprawled out on the bench as though it was a cool 70 degrees. Old people do love the heat sometimes.
On the bus there were two young girls. One had incredibly long legs like slender reeds and they were so young and blemishless, hairless, and the other girl I recognized from the morning route I take to work. Thinner than a reed and blond with braces. The face bones of a soon to be beauty. Always wearing barely nothing even when it’s forty degrees…. School is out and they were off to the mall probably as we were heading west. I suddenly wanted to call out to those girls, to tell them hello or goodbye I may not see them ever again and they reminded me of something. I worried about them, those young girls with their long bare summer legs going out into the world alone.
The walk home hot and hotter still but I passed the cemetary which always cools me down calms me down and I thought of getting lunch or a drink or an ice cream before heading home, but I wanted to walk in the park more, and hoped it would be deserted so I could think. I saw all the bicycles strewn on the ground yet there was an almost deafening silence and then like locusts the screaming began. Swarms of children like bees everywhere. The children even were hot and some were sprawled on the benches like sleeping drunks. But others running around and playing ball. They were near your memorial tree and I so wanted to visit you but walked instead onto the open grass under the searing sun and then I smelled something so powerful so fragrant like gardenias, magnolias or jasmine. Surely it could not be. I thought the season long over. A blooming Linden tree about 15 or 18 feet tall overflowing with flowers. I ran and stood under it while the boys were playing ball about twenty feet away and one was discussing his father’s big boat or car, others were talking baseball and I wondered why they were not under this intoxicating fragrant thing that I was standing under. And then they all disappeared.
I was again in Nabokov’s story, that he wrote of a summer day so long ago…and still I do not know the name of that story where he said everything there is to say about a summer day. A hot summer day when everything sizzles and stops and stuns and the bees even are in shock and still and the feeling of something stirring in your very brain and heart and feet, a slow disease forming, a frothing of your mouth like dogs, a decay of the mind your feet and heart and very blood disappearing. I grabbed as many flowers as I could and breathed in to resuscitate myself, to arm myself, to strengthen myself, to anaesthetize myself, to opiate myself, to help ease myself into the tunnel of delirium. From which I do not want to return. Ah the Linden smell… I still see that old woman in Berlin again wandering around that open air cafe draining old glasses of Curacao.
I was in the Nabokov mind the Vladimir and Vera summer of 1956 Colorado California Road trip butterfly times. It was some kind of beauty that he captured the beauty of a summer day the sizzle of heat the terrible heat, the exhaustion of all the dried grasses and flowers and all the falling and decaying leaves from the dying trees…..the smell of it all the smells and sounds of dried things of summers and winters and springs that never came and all the rain and rain and rain. And in April in the middle of the daffodil and hyacinth season a snowstorm…. yes I have a picture of it here on my phone and I can smell it like perfume. The heat of 150 summers since the buffalos roamed. Can you smell it?
I seemed to smell it the blood and bone of it the tiny white flowers of it. The loathing and the yearning and the inevitability of it. Drowning. Knowing one day that geyser you dreamed of in the park in 1999 is coming. But the girl in the blue sweater standing by the waiting car will not be there.
I wonder now why I never discussed this with my mother. So often she looked at me with that look so quizzical so wanting so needy wanting what? My company? My Mind? My tiny afflicted soul? My time? What what what did you want? She wanted maybe to tell me she had the same dream and that one day I will know what it means….
So I see her now see her in the sky the configuration of it ten years ago I think it would be 2009. Two years after it hit. The money drained down the tubes. Work quit. Trying to find my mind my heart my body my soul again. Trying to dream at home instead of the train station that was taking me to commerce and filthy money and people walking back and forth aimlessly by my desk. One of them escaped with his family to China. Better there than here when it hits he said.
It was a procession then a procession up there in the sky back in 2009 and it was giving me a signal. It was about to start. I got it just as it was starting to move. The sky was so lucid that day and the clouds were so vast and white and lavender and there was that something blue. Like this larkspur. That makes sense because it grows in large masses now in the driveway, as though some big hole in the heavens opened up and it spilled out just for me.
I am on my hands and knees all day gathering it still. In the searing sun unearthing the blue treasures with my hands and my hands are getting all bloody and my knees are scraped and bloody too and my face is getting red and brown from being in the sun so much and the larkspur that is growing now like a pool of blue water that some fortunate people can still swim in without loosing their flesh. Like in the movie “Blue Lagoon”. Roger Ebert called it one of the stupidest movies he had ever seen but I watched it the other day and it was worth it just to see the blue water and the fresh juicy fruit growing everywhere and how delicious everything looked. The fish that they speared and cooked immediately over a fire on the white sands how crispy fried delicious and what succulent fish flesh!
I want to swim in the blue lagoon I want to fish and swim again in blue waters under blue fragrant skies that I swear even existed in Detroit Michigan! I want to eat guavas and papayas and mangoes and strawberries and black raspberries and coconuts and pineapples though I would have to be in three different countries all at once or find a really good fruit market.
So that was it then in 2009 I had a chance… the procession there was easily reached even by my hands and feet and I remember looking up and everyone else was looking down at their ph0ne like they did during 9/11…. I had forgotten my phone that day I hardly looked at it even when it was in my purse I was wondering what they were all looking at they were all so silent. I remember no one said anything and I thought good now I can read. It wasn’t until I got to work that all the commotion and screaming and yelling started and still I did not know.
I never know I never know anymore what anyone is talking about and I don’t care because the finch last night and that weird little bird told me all I need to know. Oh and I forgot I also wandered around in my nightgown in your garden. I hardly get dressed anymore or maybe I was dressed and then undressed and went to bed and sleepwalked downstairs because you know I hear things sometimes…. I wanted to see what it looked like in the dark. But your garden is lit up like a circus from your next door neighbor’s garage and house and side lights… there are lights everywhere and I swear I thought I heard your newly planted trees crying.
So I ran back to my own dark garden but it was light and then I saw there was a very bright moon and I wanted to blow out the neighbor’s lights and tell them they don’t need them because the moon is so very bright at least a few times a month. The night was silver like a moth like a song like an aluminum planet like a star as though you were inside mercury seeing miracles on Jupiter and Mars….it was so hot and late and silvery and I thought I saw a police car and ran back inside and then back to my garden…. because women in nightgowns should not be wandering the streets late at night staring at the moon.
It was so late and time to sleep but I was not sleepy. It has been so very hot and humid all day and I did not want to go in because now it was cool and fresh and quiet and breezy and the lack of human interference Divine.
I did not want to go in and then it bit me– the mosquito. All night long.. long after the weeping Chinese neighbor whose husband just died left me…. I sat out and looked around my garden and it got bigger and bigger and darker and I sat there all night because I wanted to be with the fireflies. I have seen them flashing by in and out of the garden now for two weeks and had to be there among them. And I sat in the chair in the corner by the fireplace and the lightening bugs kept flying by and I thought I heard them singing and not one mosquito bit me and I know there are thousands of them out there….. as though some one said “Leave her alone this one night”……I saw each and every flower and leaf and stem and even all the blues and lavenders and pinks and chartreuse and different shades of green because your eyes somehow adjust they transform they bend down to meet your every need and I could have sat there all night long……
I still smell the linden blossoms and they should not be out they are a June flower but every thing is either too early or too late… the birds know it the raccoons the possums the squirrels the deer even the rats know it…. the time is coming……soon.
I should have listened then in 2009 I should have let my mind be set free let my limbs relax at my sides let my breath elevate me as I was waiting there on the platform for the train at the station. It was exactly the right time and place and it was calling to me but I did not listen. It would have been as easy as soaring over the trees that you do in those flying dreams….
The clouds were in a procession and they changed from fish to birds and fish to birds again and then some big reptilian thing and I remembered wondering why I was seeing dinosaurs in the sky… I remember wondering and wondering what it was but you can be so breathless looking up at the sky at the clouds that become mountains in front of your very eyes…. I should have listened paid attention to the signal the signs the slow elevation of my soul what was left as I stood there on the train platform going to nowhere I should have noticed that the creatures had turned into whales great blue whales rising up from the earth’s seas and they were now in the skies in the far away blue lavender skies and one of them was you my own dear mother calling to me… coming to me finally to say hello and goodbye.