Like a silk scarf that flutters carelessly in the wind, your petals won’t obey. They swagger in different directions—like wisps of hair left to caress the face—in a designer messiness that eludes over-thinking. At times you are as tan as a leather cowboy hat, and at others you aspire to the yellow robes of Eastern royals. I cannot organize you, characterize you or decide who you are.
Frustrated, I look to your stems to find the answers in your past. There I discover two types of stems: one is thick and yellowish, with large thorns widely spaced so they can easily be avoided; the other is thin and green, with thorns, like the small sharp teeth of a carnivorous fish, that pierce wherever one touches the stem. I discover that you have the flamboyance of a mutt, grown from parents of such differing temperaments that you toss your hands in the air and say “to hell with it—I am me.”
For all of your swagger, you haven’t lost your sweetness. In fact, the ants literally love you to death, and devour some of your buds whole before they have the chance to blossom. There is a callousness in the jagged stumps the ants leave behind, like the remnants of a forest fire.
But you are a survivor, and I meet you there: In the yellow shadows of the sky after a long, hot day, when the sun has burned through the cool blue, and you are still resilient with color.
In the batting of an eyelid, you populated your patch of the earth quickly and then you were gone. From the countless first buds, like a sea of white lights in the night, you seemed to straddle the long, slow work of evolution and were suddenly there, not in one or two but in plenty. I visited you each morning to watch a gradual opening, but you were in a different rhythm, or keeping ahead of all rhythms, like a face that has undergone age-defying treatment. You played with my ingrained sense of time – past, present and future – and claimed that such conventions were old hat. There was just you and the cascades of giddy pleasure that fell from your branches, forever in this fleeting moment.
The sweetness of your flowers wrapped me in sticky cotton candy - in too much there was never enough. Their opening was like the grand opening of a giant department store, offering early-bird discounts. The pollinators clambered over one another to get the most and the best, fastest. The usual graces – keeping to one’s flower or only climbing into a new one when it became vacant – were a wistful memory. The distance between wanting and getting vanished, meaning we were in danger.
You invaded the neighboring flower beds, offering no other justification than that you needed the space. I cut back your unsightly upshoots, the tiny angry thorns penetrating my thin garden gloves. But it seemed hopeless. You were like a hydra, with tendrils that beckoned to be cut so they could multiply.
Just as this wild dance was at its most virulent, your petals began to fall like young men on the battlefield, and within a day all that was left was a colorless bush. You retreated into the shadow of your dark leaves, empty as a widow. All’s quiet on the western front. The genie is back in the bottle. But your short life haunts my thoughts daily, and I meditate to still them.
You float dry in the small sea on my desk. My greed for your scent parches you, no matter how much water you get. Beheaded from that prickly body, your scent retreats into the water. If I drink it, perhaps I will taste you as you once were, but that is impossible, for I have taken you from your magic place, where the most extraordinary things grow knowingly out of a desert mirage.
You came from the Eastern fringes, that corner of my island that faces Mecca. There, your ruffled petals were like many whirling dervishes, dizzying me as I followed their contours in a never-ending flow. Your infinite swirling transfixed me, until I snapped the fingers of my intellect that said this wasn’t allowed. It was my tragedy, not yours. Other petals still swirl atop that bush, until the red fruit bulges out of the flowers like clowns’ noses, and the dervishes retreat into the memory of the roots.
You were unabashed magenta, defying the pastels of dust and stone. This could seem promiscuous, but flowers of the desert must flaunt themselves to survive. Chartreuse leaves covered in a barely-visible fur that kept vital fluids in and preying insects out, served as shade for the thick, grey stalks of a thousand hair-thin thorns. The roots had grown deeper than my spade could ever dig, and so I began to understand that you drank your magic from underground rivers.
The bumble bees lost their minds in your nectar. As they dug themselves into the heart of you, your scent intensified, overwhelming the air like incense. Even if I have the power to pick you, your intensity won’t stay in my hand, because you are like a prayer call that falls from the minaret.