A bouquet titled “Flying,” hanging upside down in a basement window, drying, one stalk fallen on the windowsill, balanced petal down, stem up.
When a dear old friend, Chris, and I reconnected near the beginning of the Pandemic, it re-sparked our shared love for language. He had fallen in love with a book and was reading and re-reading it, its sentence structures and voice becoming known by him, in places, by heart.
We could speak about a poem for hours, its thread weaving in and out, back and forth, through and around, other threads held in the conversation. We would send one another Marco Polos of poems and commentary on poetry. He would sit out on his fire escape to read and respond via video, and I grew intimate with the trees in his backyard, the light at different hours, the passing sirens. I most often replied from my cozy small treehouse of a room, a Buddhist alter at one end, a desk at the other, and a bed against the wall in between. I once gave a tour of the room, picking up objects with tenderness, their own memory and story a poem to behold.
Constellations of coincidences perhaps built from old seeds began to fruit, blooms from old roots, took flourish. He was caretaking a lemon tree. We had spoken some about prayer (I work as an interfaith hospital chaplain), and he listened to my thoughts on how prayer can come from a place not dependent on outcome (though that is often woven in). One morning, when I knew the lemon tree was struggling, I wrote a prayer. That same morning, not knowing I was writing the prayer, he told me he’d been thinking about the relationship between prayer and outcome. Another time, we would discover Ocean Vuong’s essay on poetry and fire escapes, and read that together, speaking about darkness, exposure, suffering, and true care.
We began to read House of Belongingby David Whyte together. This book has been with us camping in CT, an old Inn on the NY side of the Berkshires, walking through a creek to pause on an old bridge, and in our separate homes as we explore the feeling of belonging in our inwardly shared home, reading through marco polo as time allows.
A visit this past summer in rainy Boston found us once again with House of Belonging opened, conversation lifting off the page. As we were near the end of the book, he brought a new one for us to begin once this is finished: Be Holding by Ross Gay.
Be Holding – “beholding” –to behold, to thoroughly hold (through sight) something remarkable. “Be Holding” – to be is to be holding (witnessing); “be” holding, an imperative; “be holding” to be is to be a land owned; “be” “holding,” the pause between words a gap like a basketball player feet in the air, ball about to take flight; to be is to be beholding; be [a] holding; be [the] holding; be [pause] holding; behold something beheld; etc…
When Chris handed me a copy of Gay’s book, a book-length single poem love song to basketball player Julius Erving), he told me part of the poem renders flight, flying, making decision in the air. Yes, the swiftness of seconds with both feet lifted, the quick decisiveness approximates a kind of magic. (Read a beautiful review here.)
At one point in our blooming relationship, he ordered food for me from afar as I finished a stressful hospital residency during the beginning and height of the pandemic. Fast-forward to the following summer, and he felt the stress of finishing a master’s thesis while preparing for another year of teaching Montessori elementary school. Early on I had sent him almond butter and blackberries, bringing tangible taste to our discussions of Love in the Time of Cholera, Mary Oliver’s Blackberries, and Robert Hass’s Meditation at Lagunitas(“to which the bramble of blackberry corresponds, / a word is elegy to what it signifies”) this time I wanted to send something other than food.
I thought about flowers. A google search of his zip code brought me to this flower shop in Cincinnati, and oh look, it explicitly connects to poetry! And oh look, there’s a bouquet titled “Flying!” It’s one of the few photos that features a young person (I would later find out, the owner’s son), holding the bouquet rather than just the flowers—I like the almost accidental nature of the photography—something in-between moments about, something not dissimilar from quick decision-making in the air, on the fly.
On the website, there wasn’t an area to write a personal note, and, in my own in-between rushing, I had put in the wrong email address as a contact. This prompted me to call the shop, leave a voicemail, and receive a return phone call from Tiffanie, a poet, scholar, and mother. We spoke with ease and depth about poetry, stories, flowers. She described how poetry and flowers connect to her—arranging colors in such a way as to bring hope amid darkness, to bring a spot of horizon closer when the future evades sight and uncertainty looms. Far from transactional, tenderness moved this conversation—we were fast friends from far away. She said sometimes she writes poems to deliver the flowers, glimpsing stories of human lives and finding the words for that bearing witness. The flower company brings her and her children together as well. Let’s help it fly off the ground!
Chris cherished the flight bouquet that day, and I inquired about them sometime later. He sent me the picture above, of how he hung them upside-down in the basement to dry, tenderly tended to, taking flight into new iterations, flowers beholden to what we have seen and beholding what poems, connections, coincidences, and iterations of love we’ve yet to see.
*To order a chapbook of Rebecca’s poetry and support Slapering Hol Press of the Hudson Valley Writer’s Center, click here.