I keep coming back to this poem I wrote for our writers’ circle last summer. I was driving down the parkway on my way home from a monitoring appointment at Cornell. I was moved by the Queen Ann’s lace that ruptured the concrete on the shoulder of the road and the general tenacity of nature to create opportunity for life, the tenacity of life itself to survive no matter the circumstances. I can see myself in that scrappy little highway flower. I have quite a story about all that has unfolded in the past two weeks–a bi-coastal challenge that followed us to Northern California on what was supposed to be a rejuvenating vacation–but I need it to come to resolution before I can find perspective to finish writing about it. For now I’ll leave you with my poem:
Somewhere in the coastal bluffs of the Santa Lucia mountains,
a Pacific breeze carries the
ambitious seed of a California poppy.
Generations of drought, battering winds, lean soil
cruelly stripped the landscape of the weak.
This seed—built by hardship to feast on the wild, unforgiving sun,
to survive the drenching rains that slide in muddy torrents down hillsides—
unwittingly arrives in a flat meadow,
settling into a neighborhood of grasses browned like honey.
It tunnels roots into the earth,
stretches gangly foliage,
snaking through tiny spaces,
until it blooms a broad carpet of flowers,
like orange gum drops,
tiny clementines scattered on the prairie floor,
offering themselves to the opportunistic songbird,
who eats and carries this engineered strength
over craggy cliffs to the mysterious beyond.
Somewhere in the Bronx, there is an overpass,
an interstate arcing adjacent to a cluster of tall apartment buildings,
laundry hanging from terraces,
crying babies blotted out by the deafening rumble of traffic.
The force of an 18-wheeler careening across searing concrete
bends the air and jostles the gossamer threads of a dandelion
thrusting its defiant head from a crack in the shoulder of the road.
In a quiet explosion, the seeds burst and scatter and ride the gust to their fate.
Some cling to crevices in the rusty beams that soar from the city streets below.
Some lie haplessly on asphalt to bake and rot in heat that warps the light.
Some take up residence on a grease-stained napkin cast off by a thoughtless passerby.
Rainwater washes the road and carries the seeds in a strange river of motor oil, trash, and urine,
depositing one survivor in a sandy crescent forced violently open by the ice of January snows.
It drills deep into the unyielding turf,
sprouts ragged leaves that drink of exhaust fumes,
its neighbor a broken beer bottle,
its horizon a concrete divider scarred by the blunders of drunk drivers.
Somewhere in the manufactured rows of suburbia,
a woman in a wide-brimmed hat, soft in the middle, wrinkles around the eyes,
uses a red-handled spade to gently dig a tiny pocket in the
black loam of the garden in her courtyard.
She tears the corner of an envelope marked $1.95,
glossy with a photograph of floral splendor that lies in wait
from a history carefully manipulated,
arriving in soil meticulously tilled.
She nestles a seed into the womb of this soft earth
with tender fingers and a gentle shower from a plastic watering can.
Days flit slowly by and she greets the green shoots of promise with a proud smile,
the delicious anticipation of her creation.
She kneels on flagstones,
clearing away treacherous blades of crabgrass that try to
casually canoodle in the sanctity of her garden;
threatening to choke her darlings, rob them of resources,
she fiercely patrols the terrain for invaders,
tearing them from life,
exiling them to the compost bin,
where their sacrifices will nourish the posterity of the privileged.
In time, a host of brilliant yellow blooms unfurls in the August sun.
As they shrivel, she collects their seeds and
stores them in a cool, dry place