On February 14th, a friend in
The more I read his poetry, the more I loved it. Right now, I’m reading his Delights and Shadows (2004) and also The Home Poetry Repair Manual (2005). You know the way the information age takes you places – today I found “American Life in Poetry”, a weekly newsletter, with a poem, and Kooser’s very short introduction to the poem. I’ve been reading back issues (not all 162 of them) of the newsletter, and I subscribed to it.
Column Number 84 is a poem called “Amaryllis” by Connie Wanek of
A flower needs to be this size
to conceal the winter window,
and this color, the red
of a Fiat with the top down,
to impress us, dull as we've grown.
Months ago the gigantic onion of a bulb
half above the soil
stuck out its green tongue
and slowly, day by day,
the flower itself entered our world,
closed, like hands that captured a moth,
then open, as eyes open,
and the amaryllis, seeing us,
was somehow undiscouraged.
It stands before us now
as we eat our soup;
you pour a little of your drinking water
into its saucer, and a few crumbs
of fragrant earth fall
onto the tabletop.
My Mum’s birthday was November 6th. Every year, I’d buy her an amaryllis bulb for her birthday. She would plant it in an 18-inch long terracotta planter shaped like a camel, lying down – the flower would grow where the hump oughtta be. It would bloom by Christmas. Mum loved them for the same reasons I didn’t – they’re huge, and bright red and ostentatiously flamboyant. That’s how she liked things. I like things smaller and quieter, modest and reserved. African violets. Forget-me-nots. Nicotiana. But I bought them for her, the reddest ones, at the supermarket.
Except, in 2006, it was different. Her cancers were diagnosed on September 21st. Thursday. On the weekend, my sister said to me, “She said the doctors said months. Christmas?” I said, no, not Christmas. “Her birthday, if she can start to eat.” So, I bought the Amaryllis bulb early that year. A friend had taken me to the Mum Show in the greenhouses in Gage Park, Hamilton. A commercial nursery had a table there, with much fancier, more expensive, bulbs than I usually bought. I bought one with red and white striped flowers. I gave it to her right away, hoping she’d see it bloom.
Well, she didn’t. It bloomed about 10 days after she died. Two stalks, four blooms the size of dinner plates at the top of each one. They looked obscene, sitting there in the middle of the dining room table, while they were still two green, growing shoots. I was there the day they bloomed, and my aunt too. I sent it home with her in her car. It bloomed for a very long time.
I’m only writing this because the poem made me cry. She didn't believe in God. The day before her birthday, she asked me if I still believed in an afterlife. I said yes -- no other matter or energy just disappears. I asked if Burnie, her second husband and the one she loved best, had believed in an afterlife, and she said she didn't know; they'd never talked about it. I told her that a few days before he'd died, I'd been sitting in bed with him, both of us drinking diet Cokes I'd smuggled in. (He was on restricted fluids.) That I'd said, "I'm going to miss you, Burnie," and he'd said he'd miss me too. I think that sounds like he was expecting to be somewhere he would.
In the last few days, we told Mum it was okay to go; that Burnie and my brother Steve were waiting for her. I do believe she heard, and I do believe they were waiting for her, with all my heart.