Monday, May 21, 2018

The Garden of the Heart: Flower Language

That flower to the left, in the second photo from the top of page: It's called "Bleeding Heart." So in the language of flowers, what does it mean to send one of these to someone else?
            Does it mean you express your emotions openly? Or is it meant to say "spurned or rejected" affection? Or that the recipient is too sensitive? Does it express your unconditional love for all creation? Or your belief in a connection between two people enduring beyond life?
            Well, actually, all of them, according to the sources I discovered online when I tried to learn something about the language of flowers.
            Also called floriography, "flower language "is a means of cryptological communication through the use or arrangement of flowers," according to Wikipedia. I.e. a code.
            The sources find it rooted in ancient cultures, citing symbols in the Hebrew Bible's "Song of Songs," and practices throughout Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Some cite its development (or 'flowering'?) in the Ottoman Empire, before it spread to western Europe. In Elizabethan England we find the 'meanings' of flowers playing a prominent role in Ophelia's "mad scene" in Shakespeare's "Hamlet."
            The practice boomed in 19th century England and the United States, a response I'm guessing to the Romantic movement in poetry and the other arts.
            The repressive code of manners in Victorian England furthered the use of gifts of flowers, or specific flower arrangements (I find), to say things "that could not be spoke aloud" in gentile society.
            I'm not a big fan of repression. On the other hand, if it opened the door to "saying it" with flowers, that's kind of cool.
            And I can't believe that there isn't a Japanese equivalent .
            Here's a glossary of the emotional correspondences assigned to many common flowers:
            So if someone offers you a blue hyacinth, that's an expression of "constancy."
            A violet? "Modesty" (bottom photo). Which, as a compliment, can cover a lot of ground.
            The red peony pictured at the top of the page -- I like this one: "Happy marriage."
            Forget-me-nots, not surprisingly, signify either 'true love' or 'memories.'
            And "ivy" -- there seems to be a big call for flower sentiments of this kind -- expresses "wedded love" and "fidelity."  Of course there are also many varieties of ivy (I don't think they were thinking of poison ivy). English ivy, maybe.
            It's not all good. A cyclamen (a good wintertime indoor plant) signifies "resignation" or even "goodbye."
            A daffodil, of which we see so many in the early spring, stands for "unrequited love." Wow, that's a lot of heartache.
            A begonia means "beware."   
            And a primrose (fourth photo down) means "I can't live without you."
             I agree. I can't live without flowers. Or what they mean. 

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Garden of Verse: Poems in May Grow Flowers, Fathers, and the Hard To Explain

            We may be celebrating Mother's Day this month, but fathers are also showing up big in some poems in May's Verse-Virtual. So are flowers, perhaps unsurprisingly, given the season. So is the uncanny.
            In Laurie Bryo's poem "Mask," the soul of a father appears to have spread itself over the natural realm, in a raccoon that "swaggers" into the house and in further reflections of the forest:
 "wing for hair,
leaves for mouth, stream for skin."
            Then the imagery leaves natural correspondences behind:
rain fills each empty shoe.  A lost shoe on the moon fills
with stardust. Meanwhile, each courage teacher covers
her eyes with brown pebbles, removes a periwinkle shell
battered from tumble. A lawyer soothes his throat with honey
            The imagery lets go. It's eerie, but also wonderful -- and beautiful.

            Sarah White's "Poems by Sons," tells us that men often write about their fathers. Again, we're offered tantalizing images:
"as a man looking out
the window at a lone crow on the road,
or a man shaving while steam
from a small boy’s adoration
rises and clouds the mirror."
            I particularly like the cinematic close-up of a father "looking out the window at the lone crow," but the poem points out the weakness of the second picture.
            As the son realizes when he becomes a father, it's unlikely that Dad shaves with a cloudy mirror. These "Poems by Sons" may tell us little about the fathers, but a good deal more about the sons.

            Why do gardeners make a fuss over their flowering plants? Maybe because they keep teaching the same lesson -- that nothing in life lasts forever, yet life keeps coming. -- and we keep needing to learn it. Linda Fischer's "A Field of Flowers" depicts the gardener "edging a length of the garden
as precisely as a rolled hem."
            The poem takes the comparison further: "Like the gown I once stitched,
languishing in a closet of clothes
I can no longer wear,
horticulture knows but a brief
            But I'm not finding a poem about the futility of labor here. Read what the gardener's "hands reach for" at the end of this poem.

            There is more to heaven and earth than we can find a place for in our philosophy, as comprehensive as we try to make it. In Michael Minassian's surprise-packed fantasy "In the Back Yard I Found a Rotary Phone," we discover that rotary phone humming in the 'garden,' an unidentified "she," a wingless "angel," "tiny gods in aero planes," and the contemplation of a "lamb's kiss."
            Best of all we have this vision:  
"flowers stood about
at the end of their wits"
            Sometime I know just how those flowers feel. We're 'projecting,' of course. This poem makes us stand up and take notice.

            In an "Unnamed Country" by Mary Makofske, life's garden has narrowed to a single tulip on the pavement -- dropped by a hurrying "flower vendor" or perhaps a "husband bearing from the florist shop
an anniversary bouquet."
            In the panic of the moment, no one among the few who slink beside the buildings will stoop to pick that it up. Once again, a poem makes us see ourselves in flowers -- a solitary flower reduced to "these yellow petals and this fragile throat." The starkly abandoned flower tells us all we need to know of what has happened here.

            Angels, those products of poetic imagination without whom we simply cannot do (Rilke, famously, couldn't) make a forceful appearance in Penny Harter's "Honoring Angels":
"one grabbed my hair
and swung me round and round as if we were
playing a child’s game. I knew she would
soon let go, flinging me into the coral mist
surrounding us both..."
            This visionary image, the poem tells us, can be understood in more than one way. In the grasp of that angel, we pay close attention.

            More transcendent images appear in Tricia Knoll's poem with the Yeatsian title "The Opera Company Sells Its Costumes":
hover as we wrap up inside sequined warrior
fatigues, mummy wraps, gowns smirched with blood
from spousal blows, neoprene court jackets,
or wool doublets of shepherds."
            The poem soars, leaving the material facts of the weather charts -- "clouds" -- behind. Sometimes leaving our everyday language behind is the only way to fly. And what an interesting sound that word "neoprene" makes. I had to look it up and was rewarded with this mouthful: "neoprene: synthetic polymer resembling rubber, resistant to oil, heat, and weathering." Poems are also resistant to weathering.

            In Robert Wexelblatt's "A Moment's Change," we meet another flower:
"Imagine her coming into the room
smiling because she knows you still love
her; how then that smile shrivels
promptly as Mojave mariposas."
             Mojave mariposas, another wonderful mouthful, are also new to me. Poems send us to places we haven't been (Mojave in my case). But we're familiar with the concept of 'quick-blooming,' as we are as well with the word "prognosis," which follows quickly in this tightly-written, devastating poem.

            In Michael Gessner's beautifully written poem "Painted Hands," we learn:
"The ancients used slick swells of stone
walls and ceilings to give the impression
of moving upward in the flickering light,
often found in recesses absent
of any forms of human life
as if yearning had no body."
            The phrase "as if yearning had no body" responds to the image of handprints on stone that accompanies this poem so perfectly that we already have more than enough here to remember. But this poem has more for us, especially its final speculation on what these images of ancient hands on stone may say to us about the longing for community, or perhaps 'communion.'

            A lot of wonderful poems in this May 2018 issue of Verse-Virtual, with a lot to say to us. 
            You can find them here:

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Garden of the Seasons: Back to Life

It's hard to illustrate in a photo of a single plant, or colony, however advanced or retrograde that plant's progress is, how the look of things has changed in the overall, everywhere-you-look perspective. 
         Green everywhere, color popping up here and there in various places. The expected ones, the Vinca Minor and the bulbs, but also in the largely forgotten habitues of late May, seen now for a week or two, but then retreating back into masses for the rest of the year. 
              The Japanese primrose (top photo) for instance. Very small, competing for space and earth and nutrients in a level bed overrun in recent years by tall lanky loosestrife. 
           I rush to take its picture now, before the big boys get up, stretch, and stand up straight, leaving the spring bloomer to hide in the shade until another chance next year. This strongly violet colored flower is matched by another plant of what appears to be the same variety of primrose, but blooms a dark pink. Anne sees these blues and pinks matching up on the dance floor of the Kingdom of Plants. 
             Looking to learn something about the primrose, I end up learning about its name. The prim is from "prime," and primrose symbolizes youth because they bloom in the early spring. In Norse mythology the primrose is connected to Freya, the goddess of love.
          Another spring visitor is a plant called Spring Vetch (pictured at left). Its buds open before I can stop shivering in my daily visits to April's versions of spring. It is peaking now . It grows in a place very close to a very big oak tree, a site not many plants attempt. I'm not sure what moved me to place it there in the early years. A lot of trials; a lot of errors.I have the impression that the plant enjoys the lack of competition for space on a site where it, unlike most competitors can manage to bud and blossom and go to seed before the tree overhead fully leafs out and blocks all the sun. It gets its sun when the getting's good.
        According to a very botanically correct website, 
the plant Lathyrus vernus, also named 'Spring Pea,' and 'Spring Vetchling' grows in the form of a perennial herb, up to a height of 8 to 15 inches. Frankly, our two plants are there already. Here's the rest of the site's pretty tart description of its appearance: "Stem erect, bristly, wingless, almost glabrous." Glabrous sends me searching the internet again, where I find this definition:
"the technical term for a lack of hair, down, setae, trichomes or other such covering." OK, done with technical. 
        Vetch is actually quite fetching in its season. Which is now.
         Other perennials, blooming or not, change every day, filling in the space, in a rush to claim all they can claim, making this early May period in one sense the most exciting part of the year. The fast-spreading species, like the Vinca Minor and the wild violets (bottom photo) that flower now, blossom everywhere they've spread too. Or if a plant is alone in the world of the garden -- just one place, one moment -- like this small patch of spring vetch, or the two primroses -- they go all out.

            We'll see the leaves of the violets all year, but only have the violet blossoms for these couple of weeks. They take their opportunity now before larger plants crowd them out, and the trees leaf out to take their lionish share of the sunlight. 
            Daffodils blooming a bright yellow last week have faded this week. Their little clock has chimed all its hours. I always think, I should cut a few and bring them indoors. 
            Some other early blooming perennials shown in these photos are the tulip, grape narcissus (the spiked blue flowers seen in the second and third photos down), the bleeding heart (second to last photo).  

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The Garden of the Seasons: Happy May Day!

            Happy May Day, everybody. For much of the world May Day is a holiday for working people, who march in great numbers down the main streets of capital cities, or join protests -- against a corrupt president in the Philippines, or their exploitation as migrant workers in a wealthy country -- or defiantly celebrate a 60-year-old revolution inspired by people like Che Guevara. 
            For those of us living in New England, it's like "OK, maybe we can walk around in shirtsleeves for a couple of days. When the weather changes for the better on a fortunate date -- this sunlit, steadily warming First of May -- everything looks better.
            Truthfully, the last week of April warmed up sufficiently for me to make progress out of doors in clearing last year's debris from the perennial garden.
            The weeping Japanese tree (top of page) had its own cherry blossom season.
            The blossoms on the red maple tree out front rained down after an all-day shower and turned the sidewalk into a spatter canvas by some artist who really liked red.
            The vinca blossomed and spotted up violet (see bottom photo), about two weeks behind its usual schedule, in its many expanding colonies.
            The English ivy, that covers literally everything in its path, including a once-thick patch of Vinca Minor, received a two-hour gloved-hands thinning on a mild Saturday afternoon.
            The birds sang, and in the case of the robin posed politely for photo (see second from bottom photo), and we continued to feed them.
            A woodchuck meandered through our neighbor's lawn and took a sharp U-turn when he saw us coming.
            A nuthatch visited our feeder and then did a quick inspection of a nearby tree in his customary tail over head, upside-down-appearing fashion. The other birds resisted the temptation to imitate him and kept their own heads high.
            The hyacinths deepened their hues.
            The Japanese primrose made its annual early-spring appearance (see fourth photo). It has since opened two more blossoms.
            The pansies and the grape hyacinth brightened up the sidewalk strip (see third photo from top).
              We're hoping all these new friends will soon have plenty of company.

Monday, April 30, 2018

April Poems Run Out the Days: The Longest War, Following a Plath, Postcard Poetry, and a Tarot Reading Close to Home

April is a fast-moving month with, nevertheless, a lot of days. I've been trying to write a new poem each, though letting myself get behind and then catching up by writing three in one day. I have mixed feelings about coming to the end. I'll miss these prompts from National Poetry Writing Month, weird as they sometimes are. And now I won't have my daily excuse to put off whatever else I'm supposed to be doing. Goodbye April, it's been good to know you.
           Here are the last four, including some of the weirdest and silliest.

4.30 The Prompt: "Write a poem that engages with a strange and fascinating fact. It could be an odd piece of history, an unusual bit of art trivia, or something just plain weird."
            Response: Here's the fun fact I discovered: "Officially, the longest war in history was between the Netherlands and the Isles of Scilly, which lasted from 1651 to 1986. There were no casualties." This is both weird and (trust me) largely trivial. How can you have a 'war' against a few islands off the coast of Cornwall? Anyone born in the UK will think I'm just an American boob, but I have never heard of The Isles of Scilly and the name just drives me --- silly. There is an explanation for this doddering 'fake' war (you can find a short version here:, but it's not a very good explanation, so I ended up doing what I was afraid of all along -- just being silly.

The Longest Bore

There once was an island called Scilly
The name of which simply is silly
When you open a window
or look at the door,
All you see is an over-puffed  war.

The people all dress up like clowns
And make the most mocking of sounds
When the Dutchmen arrived,
thinking to thrive
They were met by "Hey Downy-down-downs!"

When the Norse sailed to the isles Scyllingjar
The sillies hoped they wouldn't get far
But they came under attack
by Swein, Erik, and Jack
It's tale you can keep in a jar.

In the days of old King Cnut
No Englishmen gave them a hoot
Till their navy was wrecked
By a storm out of Brecht
And incorporation followed 'Sweet toot'!

It came in the late Civil War
The Dutchmen King Charles did abhor
His fleet skulked in Scilly,
knocking Dutch trade willy-nilly,
And the Netherlands let out a roar

Now here is a jig and a romp
The Dutch sent an admiral named Tromp
He started a war
lasting three centuries and more --

So take care what you start
When you select an old fart
who's lacking both brain and a heart --

And everyone shouts, "What a bore!"

4.29 The Prompt: "We’d like to challenge you to write a poem based on the Plath Poetry Project’s calendar. Simply pick a poem from the calendar, and then write a poem that responds or engages with your chosen Plath poem in some way."
My response: Trying to write like Sylvia Plath sets the bar pretty high. Here's the poem I chose to "engage," which she wrote in the month of April.

"Among the Narcissi" by Sylvia Plath 

Spry, wry, and gray as these March sticks,
Percy bows, in his blue peajacket, among the narcissi.
He is recuperating from something on the lung.

The narcissi, too, are bowing to some big thing:
It rattles their stars on the green hill where Percy
Nurses the hardship of his stitches, and walks and walks.

There is a dignity to this; there is a formality-
The flowers vivid as bandages, and the man mending.
They bow and stand: they suffer such attacks!

And the octogenarian loves the little flocks.
He is quite blue; the terrible wind tries his breathing.
The narcissi look up like children, quickly and whitely.

            My poem attempts to respond by borrowing Plath's theme and placing it in another setting. Once again, flowers figure.

 April's Sick

Sick with the ick of a knife-probed stomach
He paces the sidewalk in dead-legged swoon
Immune to the flowers of May and April.
Nameless they crawl to the bones of the curbside,
With low expectations of June

He's Barrett, an esopha-guy, a man of many organs.
Inside his gut the tests find no bargains,
And the surgeon says 'No more.'
He complains he's lost his appetite
And pretends to walk to the store.

Curbside orphans, I guess you'd call them
Not a rose, he knows, in this spotty patch,
A place where smiling dogs will maul them.
"Get yourself an old mutt," they tell him,
Something else to worry about.

Sick with the kick of the late prognosis,
He takes what the endless sidewalk yields.
Flowers, again -- is it that time of year?
He turns off the news, the weather, the fear,
And wears the well-worn pavement out.

 4.28 The Prompt: "We challenge you today to draft a prose poem in the form/style of a postcard. If you need some inspiration, why not check out some images of vintage postcards?"

Greetings, Bro, From the Land of Sunshine

Wish you were here!
Wow, this whole state is mostly water,
interrupted by squares of reclaimed land,
with the water pumped into inland channels!
Only the fish (and lizards -- and gators!) know Florida!
Many fine latest-trend restaurants in walking distance
past huge puddles shining in streetlights, bubbling up at high tide
between new construction.
Come on in! The water is spectacular!
Old nor'easter roiling the ocean into horizontal Niagara,
all the jellyfish pounded to pieces.
I am in a state! All wet, or lying around in the sun, or both.
You won't recognize me!
Babe & me are on the trail of Ponce de Leon
and won't return until we are years younger
(and probably still drying off). Ha!

4.27 The Prompt: "Following [the] practice of relying on tarot cards to generate ideas for poems, we challenge you to pick a card (any card) from this online guide to the tarot -- "Pictorial Key to the Tarot"  [] -- and then to write a poem inspired either by the card or by the images or ideas that are associated with it."
             My poem:

The High Priestess
            "She is really the Secret Church,
            The House which is of God and Man."*

Where do we find this Secret Church?
Not on Sunday morning,
when we linger long at breakfast,
over two Sunday papers
with many renditions of the inner church such as
Sunday Stilettos,
Sur-real Estate,
Sports fronted with Living Section stories
about the nuances of mothering while
defending tennis titles, accompanied by
Big Glamour Shot

... And some complicated breakfast cookery
like Cream of Wheat

But She is the moon,
so perhaps when we stroll the garden
in the cool of the evening
under the sky of the little-known universe
and -- in the perfect half-light
of the marriage of daylight and nightlight --
the face of the moon is the serene
and beautiful mother
of the Temple of the High Priestess,
"the mystic temple"
wherein one hears wisdom and birdsong
and see the colors of the "flowing, gauzy mantle"
of the veil of shimmering radiance
(plus, of course, the birdsong)

She is the Shekinah of the morning commute,
the four-dimensional pattern of
interlocking bus lines,
and battered rails,
that lead to a swift and painless commute to
a City Near You
or a hegira of all too common complications,
interruptions, general dispensations of routine

She is the "Daughter of the Stars,"
not that day-timey life-waster starring yesterday's heroines
plus unfrocked abusers,
but those flaming gas giants
that turn the desert
into the Elevated Transcendental Supernal
Garden of Evenings
where we end our evening strolls
back in the Temple of Ordinary Evenings in
            Your Home Town,
inscribed by Higher Law, and Picayune Law,
and mother-in-law

and the in-dwelling bliss
of the blessed kingdom
of ancient days,
endlessly recycled.

*from "Pictorial Key to the Tarot"

 For the whole story on naprowrimo see: