‘This is the immortal flower. A geometry of yellow. Nobody in the foreground or the background. Instead, positioned, there she is. Straddling the calyx: a blue woman, a woman holding two babies in her arms. They are wrapped in turn with a jute blanket embroidered with stars.’ – A.
What are the maximum and minimum forms a memory can take?
Here on the table in front of me is a drawing of ‘the immortal flower’ (lotus) A., my mother, drew at the height of her illness, two weeks ago. There are 8,000 petals, and in the most enlightened beings this planet has hosted, perhaps only 4 of these petals were opened, my mother informs me. The lotus and the petals constitute: the crown chakra.
What would it be to live a life in which even one petal was unfurled?
The light pink flower is gleaming. I can see the taproot glowing gold through the earth. I understand, in the dream, that this English flower is medicinal. I bend my head to drink the dew or water that has collected in the hub of calyx, petals, cup.
In the underground spring, I let go of how difficult it has been to be a woman, or an immigrant, or a mother, or a writer. No, it hasn’t been difficult to be a writer, though even I feel queasy at border control when I write it with a flourish (poet) on the dotted line.
What will you remember? What did you forget?
I remember waking up in the dark, the shape of a mountain emerging as the sun rose. In this orchard, cobras bloomed in Spring, coiling up out of their brown-green husks to raise their red faces to the sun. Their faces redden even as I write these words. What mountain is that? Vulture Peak, murmurs my aunt, and my stomach leaps, because this is where the Buddha recited the Lotus Sutra, a local work.
Now this: sipping ginger chai from a clay cup, looking out at the mist and rain descending over Vulture Peak, I can smell a loaf of unleavened cake baking in the embers of the fireplace.
My uncle and I used to walk in the Himalayas without money. Write about that.
In the caves, I discharge the shocks I receive as part of my work in the university.
My carotid artery.
Afterwards, I eat steamed beets with tart cherries mashed in, then fall into a deep sleep next to a running stream or brook, the wild roses curling around my neck.
The night I met you, I lay down in the yarrow and sage – July, Colorado – without desire. The stems of those alien flowers and herbs poked through my cotton dress. I couldn’t move. In that moment, there was no difference between my arm and a leg. There you are burning. There you are fraying. There you are, a botanical population of textures, sensations and touch.
I stood before an ancient painting in the city I was born in then left. In the painting was a stand of muddy yellow flowers: the mustard seed or rape of Essex. S. was with me and the next morning we left for the River Stour, the site of Constable’s Hay Wain, the yellow flowers, all of it. Then returned to London with our arms and hearts covered with scratches, delighted. Animals, sugar and blood filled our dreams that night. How far will you go to touch the slaughterhouse floor? ‘I am not afraid to throw blood on you in public,’ said S., though in the end it was enough to set the flowers on the floor of the art gallery where our communal labor, the allowing of something not yet visible to others, came to pass.
How to write a fairytale:
Include a cross-species contact, which is to say, a sharp point between the flower and the animal.
Include a perimeter in what you write, whether rural or urban.
Include a moment in which something is neither given nor lost.
And the color red.
What is the crisis of the larger social space?
A cosmic or elemental force enters the text as the flower blooms, deep in the fairytale. Let it.
Write something that ‘touches itself everywhere at once,’ as Samuel Delany once said to a rapt audience in Philadelphia (in June).
Move from contraction to rapid expansion in the space of two sentences.
Has someone eaten the flower yet?
Night garden + two coca plants. The soft green leaves are like pleats in a complex skirt. Though it rained this morning, the mullein is still pressing out multiple tiny, papery lemon-yellow blossoms. My son is with his dad, and so I don’t have to make a proper dinner, and so I don’t. Stilton, grapes.
Night has fallen in fact and so there’s nothing to abate, stop, prevent: the night’s rose, which is blossoming now.
I am trying to write about something that is private to my family.
Someone I love is gone.
I can’t write about this here, but I want to mark it.
To press it in this poem.
Just as the night eats every flower.
Just as memory resembles floral output or energy.
And as I write these words, my son bursts through the gate and we end our evening like this: drinking tea from tall glasses in the glittering shade.
This is the zero where the beloved once was.
It’s time to go to bed.
Rose, close your beak.
Night, stop writing your name in silver ink on the dark brown paper.
Who are we when we are not with each other?
Who are we when we are not alone?
Bhanu Kapil writes across and beneath British, Indian and American spaces. She is the author of five books of poetry/prose, and also a blog, The Vortex of Formidable Sparkles, which has reached over a million readers all over the world.
On botany and eroticism in three essays and seven poems. Featuring illustrations by Yi Xiao Chen. Read the full selection of Issue 3 pieces in the print edition, co-edited in collaboration with Serpentine Galleries. Available to order here and here.