Monday, May 5, 2008


On February 14th, a friend in Tennessee sent me an article on Ted Kooser’s Valentine poems. She’d heard him interviewed on NPR, and reading some of his Valentines. I loved them, and I’d been given some book store gift certificates for Christmas, so I ordered the book with the collected poems. (The site hasn't been updated since 2005, so the book's not shown.)

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 Duluth, Minnesota.


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.


FranIAm said...

Kate- this whole post made me cry. What a beautiful and tender heart that you have, what an eye to see things and the ability to write about your life with such grace.

Crimson Rambler said...

oh Kate, HOW lovely...and my own big red amaryllis bloomed a couple of weeks ago after YEARS of nothing at all.
The first time I had an amaryllis bloom -- it was in my living room window -- a total stranger came to the door to ask whether it was "real" as she had seen it from the street and didn't believe any flower that big could be the real thing...

johnieb said...

I've really got to start Amaryllis again. It also reminds me of my Mama, and the Cactus I thought was hers in my window, but is originally from her MIL, my Granny.

Kate Morningstar said...

Fran, thank you -- I've spent all day trying to think what to say to you, and that's all I've got -- it's not enough.

CR, I know -- they look like fantasy. I do like gerbera daisies, in all their bright, riotous colours -- and one of the things I like about them is they look SO artificial.

JohnnieB, I had violets, Shasta daisies and lily of the valley in my garden that came from my maternal grandmother's -- the violets, of course, went all through the lawn.

pj said...

Kate, what a beautiful post.

I envy all of you who have the guts to write with real tenderness about your families. You, Kate, and Johnieb too. I seem to be unable to do that for some reason.


Kate Morningstar said...

Thank you, PJ. I thought about what you'd said, overnight, and realized -- I think I love my family better than I used to -- a little less of me in the way, and them in the front and centre.

Jan said...

This is beautiful, Kate. Now your mom is connected to amaryllis bulbs for me. I like links to my mother, so I'll appreciate this one with yours. You expressed so beautifully your love and how you see and appreciate life.

This reminds me of a prayer I think I posted on my blog, but which we meditated upon in a reading group I facilitate today:

Your silence is full, irresistible;
your presence is joy unspeakable.
People drifting into mind
we lift to you and pray they find
health in sickness,
life in deadness,
strength in weakness,
light in darkness.
Their loss you bear, mysteriously;
Your peace you share, eternally.

~Anglican Church of Kenya, Our Modern Services (Nairobi: Uzima Press, 2002), p15

Kate Morningstar said...

Jan -- thank you. Today has been trying and wearisome. A lot of little things went wrong at once at work, on a day I was already feeling a little bit "Other Than ...". I forgot whose I am, and let them under my skin. Followed it up with being very rude to a pretty young woman working the cash register at the supermarket, and went back to apologize.

The prayer's a Godsent tonight. I'm going to visit my friends at their blogs now.