Some notions about peonies

Peonies open only to fill with rain.
Lightweights, they quickly reach their limit
and set their inverted cups down in the dirt.


In their native East
when peonies bow
does the gardener bow back?
I look for Mecca in every direction,
envy the ground beetles
these censers spilling over
for no one. With legs uncrossed
I medidate upon the absence
of thorns.


Perhaps we should regard the bud as the main event: asteroid no realer than the dominion of the Little Prince, light green and each day more shot with pink – like a nugget of April smuggled into June. Outpost for a troupe, a squadron of small black ants whose duties evidently involve unstinting circumambulation.

And how directly this tumescence suggests to a student of human sexuality some alternate node of climax, some new biological imperative that the blind hand of evolution even now is groping toward, a focus of higher feeling a la Teilhard de Chardin – if not indeed the very apotheosis of erotica as pioneered or even invented (we are led to believe) by the French in general.

But this of course is just the sort of analogy their sloppier thinkers prefer – sex calling to sex across the divide between arbitrary “kingdoms” – while in fact the peony’s too prim to take part in any insurgency. More Hagia Sophia than pleasure dome, its dark leaves a jacquerie of pikes in pageant only, tough roots rumored to hold an antidote to melancholy – itself a narcotic for believers of a Manichaean bent. I’d often wondered what had become of it, that lovely funk I used to fall into each spring when the trees had finished retaking their four fifths of the sky, a recoiling, a hunkering down that used to blunt the sharp corners and muffle every bright and eager note. And when the fog finally lifts there’s a New World in diminuendo, growing ever softer and more diffuse, settling almost imperceptibly on its much too slender stem.


Now the thrushes have gathered
to sing on the sprigs without thinking:
how could you hear their song in the trees
and not be glad with all you’ve got and start drinking?

What could be better than branches renewed
by time, with buds peeking
into the garden? When a wind comes on
they nod to each other, it seems, as though they were speaking.

Solomon Ibn Gabirol (11th century), translated by Peter Cole


There are those who put
words into the mouths
of every flower: poets,
lovers and lawyers.
I resolve to stop
right here, to go
and listen.

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