flowers and branches, 2001

it started on the worst kind of day, the kind of day when your boots pinch
and your head aches and there’s an itch on your back just where you can’t
reach it. I had no one to scratch it. he was there and I was here and it
was my own choice so I couldn’t exactly complain but I certainly wasn’t
happy. he had done something, I can’t remember what, to make it worse
instead of making it better, and I just hurt. so I asked him to send me
flowers. please. he sounded startled but agreed and that was a small
victory though bitter too. nine years together and only recently had he
decided that it would be acceptable to give me flowers. as long as I
didn’t take them the wrong way.

he had given me flowers twice at that point. firstly: when I was
terribly sick, at the instigation of our old lover who was visiting town.
she chose them, orange mums. secondly: when we were buying groceries at
the small gourmet store and I asked him to buy me some flowers. he
agreed. I chose them, yellow daffodils. he did pay both times, so
technically they were from him. more importantly, he agreed they were
from him. baby steps.

these flowers that I asked to be sent to me were another baby step. he
agreed. casually, and I wasn’t sure that he would remember. when days
went by with no sign of them I assumed that he had forgotten. he didn’t
often forget things but sometimes he forgot quite important things. then
a message on my machine said that they had tried to deliver flowers but I
hadn’t been home. then there were three days of missed messages and
missed delivery attempts and after three days of this the flowers, all the
flowers, started to feel like they were maybe more trouble than they were
worth. he was apologetic on the phone, though he really had no control
over the situation.

finally they arrived, only two days before I was leaving town, and so
there was little time to enjoy them. lilies, little red berries, tall
elegant dry branches. they were rather impressive, actually, and he had
chosen them himself, or at least something like them. the web page warned
him that they did not guarantee the same flowers would be delivered. I
determined to enjoy them, despite everything, and for two days I took very
deliberate pleasure in my flowers. then I left. I thought about throwing
them out before leaving. one of the lilies was already drooping, and they
would be sad and dead by the time I returned three weeks later. I have an
unfortunate tendency to see omens in this sort of thing, and expecting to
be depressed, it didn’t seem wise to leave them to rot and greet me with
foul scent and mold on my return. but they were still beautiful. I left
them in the vase.

one week with him. a few days with an old lover. a little more than a
week with my family. a miserable cold. when I took the taxi back from
the airport I wanted nothing more than to be home, even though being home
meant being alone again. I unlocked the door, turned on the light,
climbed the stairs. and at the top of the stairs, the dining room, and in
that room, the dining table, and on that table, the vase of flowers. the
lilies had gone dry as dust, and crumbled to the touch; the red berries
were dry and hollow. there was no scent. but the tall thin branches had
put out fresh leaves, pale and green and very much alive. once I had
cleared away the dust and rubbish, they were lovely.

my first thought was that I should make a poem about these branches, that
they were just too good a metaphor to waste. something about not giving
up, about how you think something’s dead, but if you just hang in there
and clear away the old rubbish, you may find something beautiful, yadda
yadda yadda, you know the routine, squeezed into a few lines, some good
clean words, maybe some rhymes. but that was no good, really.

it was simpler than that in the end (though longer, too, unsurprisingly).
those branches, those leaves — that is how I am, when I think of him. he
is green leaves within me. I live in the heart of winter, and despite
everything, he is the spring.

January 6, 2001