May 13, 2009 / Creative Writing
I watched Rebel Without a Cause on TV late one college night when I learned …
August 10, 2017
Victor Lemoine, hybridizer, 1823–1911
You always thought they were pure gift, the lilacs.
No work involved. Plain tendencies of nature, effortless—
those arcing stems, lavender panicles
of double flowers, draping the potholed alleys
still winter-littered in May, yet washed with fragrance
spring after spring, the thirty years you’ve lived here.
So free that the shoots invade the lawn unlooked-for.
Some years, the children help themselves to armfuls.
My dear, how like you. Effort is beyond you,
who slumped in boredom while your eighth-grade teacher
spun out the lacework rhyming of those patterns
conjured by Mendel from his plots of peas.
Have you once thought of the steady generations,
the grand famille Lemoine, the years of waiting?
Of Victor, blue-smocked, rapt in concentration
there in the greenhouse, gloved, his tiny brushes
tickling stamens, dusting gold to pistils?
Of hothouses in ranks, green as absinthe?
You who twiddle and fidget in line for coffee,
can you conceive whole countrysides in labor
at birthing these particular notes of purple?
Van Gogh-deep skies, Monet at Giverny?
Whole hills, whole valleys full of lavender
laid in with linen to stanch the coming bloodbath?
These are beyond you. Cost and pain, beyond you.
Take up your pruners; fill a generous vase
with the bruised color of that human tension.
Its perfume breathes the century away.
Maryann Corbett is the author of four books, most recently Street View. Her work has won the Richard Wilbur Award and the Willis Barnstone Translation Prize and was included in The Best American Poetry 2018. New work is forthcoming in America and Saint Katherine Review.