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Stanzas of Remembered Flowers

I tried so hard to grow,
Neglected by long hours of too much work and finally
Dug up to death by my ex-husband
after the end of everything.
But it’s scent – bottled –
shines on my pillow on sleepless nights
and reminds me of my mother.

my grandfather’s favorite scent, my mother (yes, her again) told me.
I have a small cask of violet scent
that I cannot bear to open
because if I use it
it will be gone
and then I will not know what my
grandfather’s favorite scent was.
It has been on my shelf for so long
it likely smells now only of dust.

along the brick front steps
of the house where I grew up,
the blossoms a rare treat,
exotic and sensual in their scent.
I would spend time
picking off the little bugs that would harm the plant,
trying to keep it alive
even as the blooms turned golden brown,
their fragrance dragged down into the mud by age and air.

as a first hope
when winter seems unbearable,
tightly budded turned to trumpeting blooms
with a scent so scant one must know how to smell for it
but so fresh and full of spring as a ball of sunlit butter or warm kitten fur.
I sneak sniffs of their yellowness in the grocery store
floral section
and remember scampering over rocks
in fields that were full lush ripe joyous overwhelming endless
of them.

a drunken rainbow of colors
in the past and present and future,
dried and hanging from the ceilings and walls of the bungalow,
single corsages of forgotten origin tucked away in boxes,
saved so I would always remember.
The dozen yellow roses that my parents sent me
when my daughter was born.
Yellow roses.
Always my mother’s favorite.

consuming my small house
that I no longer live in,
their bushes roof-high,
their branches old and gnarled,
but every few years
the weight of their harvest
encompasses all the old white boards
and fading red trim
and transforms
an ordinary little old domicile
into a bower of magic.

So many more
captured in the mind’s eye,
in the recollected scent of complicated night breezes
and happenstance passages,
so many more to name
but every poem must
have an end

Or at least a pause
to cleanse the palate
and clear the senses.

Because of our senses, so many parts of the past are not lost to us.

Sight? We have images from as far back as 1826.

Sound? The first audio recording ever is from the 1860s. For Christmas last year, when I bought Kelsea her record player, I also bought an album of historical figures speaking, just so we could have a voice to attach to a name and a picture. We are cut off from this part of the past prior to the recorded word.  Such is not the case with visuals, as we have paintings prior to photographs that give us images from centuries ago.

Taste? Well, for centuries some people have had good taste and some people have had questionable taste, but we’re not talking about that kind of taste. We’re talking about, say, turnips. A turnip today – at least one grown organically – likely tastes pretty much like a turnip six hundred years ago tasted. Ergo, status quo. We retain a history of taste due to the unchanging nature of basic foodstuffs.

Touch? Ditto taste. A cat’s fur feels the same as it did one thousand years ago. I think. Not everything is the same to the touch but there is a living history, A rock still feels like a rock.

And so we come to smell. And here is where history fails us. The sense of smell is lost with time – it is the most fleeting and least replicable of the senses. You know the fragrance of a rose, yet one fragrant rose is unlike another. And many roses are having the fragrance bred out of them, either because of people’s allergies and oversensitvity, or because the scent is sacrificed for a more stunning visual beauty. Will there come a day when the scent of roses is just a memory? Can it even live on in essential oils if there are no more fragrant roses?

Florals aside, while we can look at Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s picture, Netherlandish Proverbs, and you can see a lot of what life might have been like in a Dutch village in the 1500s.

You can imagine sounds, because you know what a voice sounds like, what a goat sounds like, what a cacophony of noise sounds like, but what is missing is being able to imagine the rich aroma of the place and time.This was an era when people didn’t bathe often, lived in close quarters, kept animals on small parcels of property, and had no particular system for waste disposal of any kind. Of course, they didn’t have all the trash that we do now, but organic waste is just as smelly as any other kind of waste. And there was possibly a lot more organic waste than we have now – I have no idea what they did with dead animals.  Buried them, I hope. Or ate them, perhaps?  Times could be tough.

This one sense, which in each of us today, is so variable – some can smell things that others cannot – is the element of the past from which we are most disconnected. A curious thought.  Especially when scents can trigger such memories. When I open boxes that I packed up five years ago the day after my Mother died, her scent can waft out as if she’s by my shoulder. Perhaps she is.

When I was pregnant, I would have olfactory hallucinations – memories of smells from my past – primarily gardenias.  It was lovely.

But then Kelsea came up to me this morning and said, “Mom, smell my shoulder.”

I guess that sense of smell can be a mixed blessing.



The day my Mother died, my brother and I packed up all her remaining things, dividing them between us and the donation people.  We then loaded her car and I drove off to Colorado.  Most of the boxes went into the shed.  And there they’ve sat.  I’ve opened maybe two of them, and that was two years ago – it was too painful.  Now that I’m in a better headspace around losing her, I am determined to start going through the boxes.

I brought two of them home yesterday and opened them.  One contained a narrow, metal, three-sided filigree rim that looks like it might have come from a tray or a shelf.  In other words, I have no idea what it is or why I wanted to keep it.  Hmm.

When I opened the second box, a wave of my Mother’s scent wafted forth.  It was wonderful.  Everyone has their own scent, and you don’t even notice it sometimes until that person is gone, but I always loved the way my Mother smelled – it was  a combination of subtle perfume, lavender, and just mommy.  It swept me back, so far back, back to when I was a small child flopping on the laundry on my parents’ bed, back to laps and cuddles, back to looking through her closets and trying on her shoes, back to hugs when I returned as a young woman, back to the last time I cried with my head in her lap.

Back to a good place.  A sweet place.  A poignant place.

The box itself contained silver candlesticks that I don’t remember and four silver-plated goblets that I had forgotten, but that instantly transported me to standing before the fireplace looking at them on the mantel.  Amazing that a box that contained household objects and not personal things like perfume or clothes, could still hold so much of her.  But the few things she kept when she sold the house all held so much of our family, our history, our love for each other.

I am not yet ready to open another box, even though it was not a bad experience.  It did leave me doing that thing where you think, “I need Aunt Ene’s sugar cookie recipe.  I’ll call Mother.  Oh….”.  So I guess I have to take it one little step at a time.

June 2022


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