Everything went from getting better to totally precarious in a 5 minute conversation with my roommate who told me I have 60 days to move out so her cousin can move in to my room and they can decide if they get along well enough to pool their money and buy a house together. Because housing is so expensive where I live. Because on their own, they can’t afford to buy the kind of place they want to live.
See how funny that is? How their situation is so similar to mine? How I also can’t afford the kind of place I would like to live in on my own? I mean – I know exactly how that Feels. That’s why I’ve lived here with someone I didn’t know so I could make it on my salary. That’s why I spent the pandemic in one room and nowhere else, except to cook my meals. Why my heart got broken in the same chair where I eat my meals, three feet away from where I had to sit to work – and where I lay down to sleep.
Gee, that really sucks. Not to be able to afford to live where you want. To have to make the best of something that isn’t exactly what you pictured for yourself. I really, really get it.
Please don’t leave me any “It’s all for the best, it will all work out,” messages. Because I don’t need any positivity right now. I need to cry. I need you to know how scared I am. And I just need to start packing.
I should be writing every day – but I’m not. Instead, I’m counting the time in flowers. Waiting for Saturday to come like a pardon, and lift the veil between myself and something I want. Something I don’t have to kiss goodbye or keep to myself. No riddle to live with, beyond the mercurial and mysterious light and lens, and the infinite up and down of the contrast curve
And though this is a purely solitary activity, I feel I’m just finishing the work that other gardeners started for me – and carried on much better than I ever could. A handful of lisianthus and celosia and snaps – the last she had to cut, the farmer told me, for a few more weeks. “The weather has been so weird this summer,” she said, diagnosing the lull in her cutting garden. As tan as a walnut, her girth supported on rigidly braced ankles, she was selling out of her $7 posies just a few minutes past 7 am. Next time, it will be sunflowers and dahlias – but that’s a few weeks away.
And the rudbeckia, and bee-balm and larkspur hiding just out of the frame, that grew effortlessly along the back-40 border at Ann’s house. It’s almost as if the bees and the plants know what they are doing, and can be left to carry on without too much human interference. Of course, Ann just makes it look that way – for which I am so very grateful.
To hold the true and not true together in the same heart, though – especially when it is your own – this does take a net written in longhand, so that the line can trace back to yourself with every loop and garland. Otherwise, you are bound to get lost and think you have found your way without even trying to read the map.
Here is a little snapshot of the miracles to be found on any old ramble from here to there on a Saturday – if you care to notice.
To be clear, “miracle” is only a slight exaggeration. July is too late for locally grown peonies in South Central Wisconsin. And yet – there they were under a pop-up tent at the far corner of the West Side farmer’s market, bundled next to the midnight-violet sweet peas and juicy big sunflowers – where just anyone could have them for only money. Splendid they are, these luxurious creatures, idling with the other summer flirts who have magic of their own to tell. The very sexy Snap Dragon, demurely delicious Garden Phlox and confectionary Queen Ann’s Lace – imported from aways over the Wisconsin River at the Fort Atkinson market.
And to this second-hand teapot – with her heavy low belly and stubby legs (oh, so much like yours truly) – who left her shiny bright Silver somewhere, but has endured thus far in her tarnished, more natural state (again – yours truly). To this tea pot, I whisper with all my summertime ardor – “Where have you been all my life?”
I like the idea of haibun – a travelogue in prose poetry, punctuated with a 5 – 7 – 5 stanza at the end, like a poetic Columbo. “Sorry ma’am – just one more thing.” I feel like we make this kind of poetry everyday. We are always going somewhere, after all, even if it is just to the farmer’s market. Afterwards, we probably find at least one little story to tell a friend – recalling the succulent aromas of lemony musk and grassy pepper from the bunches of cilantro and dill piled on the farmer’s table – but no corn just yet.
And here are the flowers of this haibun. Not merely souvenirs, but ambassadors from each place where they grew: the embankment, the truck garden, the lovely perennial border. Cornflowers blue, solar rays of helianthus, Queen Anne’s lace-white, snapdragons as dark as the murkiest red wine, larkspur in the deep cobalt shadows. And the Queen Monarda with her wing-shaped petals in luminesce, lipstick red. All the better to seduce butterflies, don’t ya know.
Don’t go anywhere. Stay and watch the green stems bow, moving with the wind.
Cherries and pinks (dianthus). Poor cherry tree split in two during the storm, and the homeowner said I could cut whatever I wanted. Usually people tell me ok. Maybe I do look a little crazy, standing on the front step in my floppy peachy hat and indescribable hair, brandishing my dollar-store pruners and fit-over-glasses shades.
I still miss someone, and my heart and body are brimming over with that silence. There’s nothing I can do to change the situation, and the time has passed when things could have gotten better. I didn’t expect my initial sadness to echo in a second wave with so much force, after all this time. I still feel surprised sometimes when I catch my true feelings out of the corner of my eye. Hope is the biggest secret I keep from myself.
So let’s just act like it’s summer that is breaking my heart – with her pinks and cherries, stocks and sweet peas, tiger lilies and fireflies and sun-baked grasses.
Because she always, always does.
Figuring there had to be at least 57 instances, I did a little calculation. Since 2004, we’ll say – (safely) four times a year – but who’s counting? Equals about this many countless moments of delight in the company of delightful you. And all I can tell you is you made my life immeasurably better always – and I am happy it’s your birthday.
Another trip on Saturday to Larkspur and Forget Me Not, Sweet Pea and Fever Few. It was hot here by 8 a.m, even in the yellow-nylon shade of the farmer’s market pop-up tents, and on the rain-soft grass of Ann’s lawn, sweeping down to the river. I brought a bucket of water with me so the flowers could have a long, cool drink on the drive home.
I pretend to dislike hot weather, so I don’t have to argue with people about how terrible the summer is. But years of being force-marched to the Fullerton Avenue beach taught me not to resist the sweltering. Just another crabby Park District day-camper, kept in straggling line by the unsympathetic teenage children of Who Got You That (Patronage) Job. And no – in 1972, no one was lugging along water to keep us hydrated. That’s what the drinking fountain is for, ferchrissake. No, we’re NOT stopping on the way. Wait til you get to the beach. Jeee-sus.
I guess if I’m not a little too hot, it just doesn’t feel like summer.
Regrettably, there is only one story in my heart to tell. For a while, it seemed I had forgotten the words to this story – a blessing, maybe, like the welcome discomfort of summer heat. The words came back to me this week, though – surprising me with their intemperate confidence. I blurted out a lot of things I shouldn’t, and showed a lot of feelings I’m not supposed to.
The silence afterwards is a familiar traveling companion – although too indifferent to my feelings to be called a friend. I know this silence very well. There won’t be any answer. I just wish I could stop hoping.
Oh, dear. Sunday still makes me miss you, despite how impractical that is. And unless I start from there – well, it has to be said, before I can say anything else.
Before I can say how I fell in love again with this plain, green place. The swells and curves of its horizon holding steady along the roadside. The blue Saturday sky and the promise of rain, no matter how white and harmless those shining, puffy clouds may be. Open the windows. Not in a hurry.
Before I can tell about the bull frog groaning from the dark, stone crevices lining the pond, or the ornate pattern on the toad that skipped away between the green stalks of the larkspur. “That bullfrog would eat that little toad for lunch,” Ann told me. “They’re cannibals.”
The breeze from the river, brushing away the rising heat for a little while. The vanilla sweet fragrance of valerian, as delicious as a bakery – and the thick familiar spice of peonies unfolding as I cut my share. The immeasurable privilege to ogle their louche, decadent petals for a few days, as if they were my own. Cornflowers already at the farmer’s market, and even some ranunculus. Dude crooning Pink Floyd from the pop-up tent stage. “Home…home again…I like to be here when I can…” Dude. No one at the Fort Atkinson Farmers Market is that hung over.
But mostly: talking in the quiet kitchen over iced tea. Talking in the kitchen, in a home where I am at home. No need to be good or not cry. Just drink iced tea and talk and listen. How much closer to heaven can Saturday get?
“We do not know the full story, we do not know where we are in the story…”
Early of an evening, Maureen let me cut iris and the spent heads of allium globes – as beautiful in their constellation of seed pods as they are in their starry purple flowers.
“Stay for dinner,” she said, “Max is making stir fry.”
And just like that, life returned to itself from a bad dream. Except we know that terrible distortion of our world was true. And exactly what has happened, we will be learning for a long time to come.
To sit around the table – together – together. To tell each other how we are – and to see with our own eyes the toothy laughs we shared over pea pods and chicken and white wine and cherries. I can hardly believe the miracle of it. And the wonder of irises opening still.
It’s important to remind myself why I’m buying flowers every week.
This week I got sunflowers and asters and alstroemeria – with some wild phlox tangled in, cut from the embankment behind my building. I had some dear people in mind when I picked out those flowers – and filled the blue canning jar, and the white pitcher with something I imagine they would like. It was wonderful to gather all the shapes together – the wild phlox pointing every which way between the tiny purple daisies and the juicy big sunflowers. Handfuls of late summer prairie on a rainy May morning. The radiant nacho-orange of the sunflowers makes the other petals glow – perking up their reddish-purple like a blazing sunset. Deep yellow is friends with almost every other color.
As it turned out, though, I had more than enough to see with this lovely creature, purloined from a spirea that rambles along the edge of public park, behind a neighbor’s overgrown back-forty.
Yes. I went on my walk this morning with a cup of water in one hand and garden snips in my pocket, wearing my highly conspicuous, floppy orange hat. It was raining when I went. It’s about a 10 minute walk to the park. I really wanted some spirea.
On the way home, I lost the spring that opens and closes my Dollar Store garden snips. I paid the price. Totally worth it.