It was probably the day before my dad died that I brought in from the car the September 2011 issue of Poetry, in which I found the card he had given me for my birthday in December of that year. On the cover was a simple, tasteful painting of a flower on a stem, and the card said, “Son, wishing you days of endless wonder, inspiring dreams and new adventures, and quiet moments for reflection. May your birthday bring you every happiness. Enjoy,” and it was signed, “Love, Dad.” Not too bad as far as commercial greeting cards go. And, of course, the best thing about it were the two words my dad wrote.
As for the issue of Poetry the card was in, it included a wonderful poem by Reginald Dwayne Betts that ends “All these words/for love (for you), all these ways to say believe/in symphily, to say let us live near each other.” One afternoon last spring I read this poem to Julien while we waited in the car for Maggie to get out from school. I remember that Julien enjoyed my reading of the poem and may have said “ah!” or “again” or “more.” I probably have it written down somewhere because not a day goes by anymore when I don’t write down at least some of what happened. The poem was called, “For you: anthophilous, lover of flowers.”
My Dad loved having flowers around. When my brothers and I were discussing the arrangements at the funeral home the day after my dad died, the funeral director asked if we wanted flowers for the casket. My brother Tony said that oh yes, we wanted flowers, and that in fact he had been getting flowers for my dad’s room every week.
Me, when I lived on Avenue B in New York, my apartment was above a laundromat, but next door was a flower shop that my landlord ran. I doubt that I ever had any flowers in my apartment, but whenever it was time to pay the rent I went into the flower shop with my check, and I remember always marveling at the flowers in his shop.
The only other connection with flowers I remember from that time is when I was sitting in Washington Square Park, sitting back lazily on a bench with my legs stretched out. Suddenly this tough-looking kid walked up to me and asked, “You heard of Guns N’ Roses?”
I went ahead and nodded and said, “Yeah.”
“Well then,” he said, “here are the roses. You got the gun.” He then threw a bunch of roses down at my crotch, and walked off. I didn’t know if he was some weird sort of angel with a mysterious message sent down to me from the heavens, or just another pissed-off asshole with a story he didn’t quite know how to tell. Probably the latter, but still, the hidden meaning of having roses thrown down at my crotch occupied my mind for a while. I still have no idea what it means, or if it harmed me or healed me somehow.
This is a photo of some sort of metallic flower that adorned a ride I went on with my daughter Maggie in Ocean City in June of 2012. Because it’s artificial, I dealt with this flower much better than I do with real ones, which make my eyes water and make me sneeze. When we have flowers in the house, as we do now with some of the flowers from the funeral, I place them all in the parlor, so I can visit them, as it were, then walk back to another part of the house whenever I need to get away again.
I think that so much of the pace of life is simply about the breeding of regret, about creating a gap during the day that takes the place of expression. So many people have no idea how to talk, no idea how to listen: there are too many games to play, too much money to be made, and so many things they don’t want to think about that make them say, “let’s not go there.”
But that’s exactly what I want to do with them—to take them places where they normally wouldn’t set foot. So few people come along, though.
So I suppose I’ll just continue to think about the things no one else wants to think about, and I’ll think about them for a long long time. I don’t care whether or not they make me any money—I’ll think about them simply because they are beautiful. Like flowers. And just like some people insist on winning, even against the weak, beating them down, simply because they can, I’ll keep thinking about the beautiful things. I’ll think about them simply because I can.
First published, in a slightly different version, in Gargoyle #61, in the summer of 2014.