This piece of writing came from the flower prompt some of you have read about in earlier posts. For a complete description of the prompt, click here.
In the cab, on the way to the restaurant, the driver asks me what I do for a living. “I teach writing,” I say, and he praises me. But I don’t want to talk about writing. So when he tells me about his two gardens—one in Berkeley and one in Sacramento—I press him for details, less interested in poems and line breaks than sweet peas that climb like chameleons: pink, purple, cranberry red. I want to know if he has citrus trees in Sacramento with fragrant white blossoms. I tell him that maintaining a garden is a metaphor for love, how to care for others, how to help them grow.
“What’s a metaphor?” he asks. And so we talk about writing anyway, when all I want to talk about is flowers.
When we arrive at the restaurant on the Embarcadero, the light show on the Bay Bridge is climbing and descending the great cables. The bridge has become a makeshift screen; shadows of huge fish swim across it. It’s fantastic, like a Christo installation, something ordinary has suddenly become a huge canvas. As I pay the fare, we both agree it’s impressive.
But once out of the cab, I’m more interested in the sidewalk littered with tiny pink petals, nearly translucent reminders of the blossoming plum and cherry trees that line the wide city streets. These trees seem to appear everywhere at once, the result of someone who planned for the end of winter, a thoughtful reminder of spring’s arrival. It’s the flowers I want to talk about. The flowers.
It was my mother who taught me about flowers. Not the Latin names, and not many, but she was the first. She planted hollyhocks along the driveway; they exploded like fireworks of color: yellow, orange, tomato red. Geraniums hung from hooks on the front porch; zinnias stood tall in pots just outside the sliding glass door, so bright and perky they almost looked fake.
In early May, she and I would sit in the backyard near the blossoming apple tree, a whole carpet of violets growing in its shadow. “Can you smell those violets?” she’d always ask. “Can you?”
Now, as an adult, I rarely sit in my own garden. I do, however, spend plenty of time working in it. And there is nothing so delicious as the fatigue I feel after repotting a rootbound hydrangea, or pruning back the jasmine, that wild, fragrant wig of green and white. Nothing compares to the wonderful sense of expectation when the tulip and daffodil bulbs come rising up out of the soil: pointed green leaves that promise blossoms.
It’s the flowers I want to write about, not subject/verb agreement, or metaphors, or catchy introductions and clever conclusions. The flowers. I worry about them, and I wait for their return every year. They fill me with longing, just like any other great love.