I mentioned a couple weeks ago that I was dipping into Sleeping on the Wing by Kenneth Koch and Kate Farrell, an anthology of poetry and writing prompts written for children and teens. In a chapter on D.H. Lawrence, the authors note that Lawrence called his poems “acts of attention.” They prompt readers to give this a try: Choose a subject (or concrete object) like a flower, a sunrise, or a color. Look at it or think about it for a long time. Get lost in it. Then write about it. They suggest the use of repetition as Lawrence does in his poem “Bavarian Gentians.” Read here.
The idea of a “slow poem”—a long contemplation of subject and a leisurely writing pace– appeals to me now. Three months into “sheltering-in-place,” and I’m open to allowing these times to change me and my compulsive habits.
When I first read the prompt, it was early in the morning. I was sitting in my “library,” (aka dining room), a room filled with books and a lounge chair where I often sit to read or write, and stare out the big picture window into the back yard. I looked around the room and wondered what I might use for my subject. Sometimes I have cut roses from my front yard on the table, but there were none this day. I was surrounded by books, and notebooks, and pens, and more books, and numerous tchotchkes, but at that moment none was inspiring me to give them a long mindful look. I thought, well, maybe later I’ll go cut some flowers or dig out a chunk of quartz or something like that. I’ll save this prompt for another day.
But then my eyes lit on the small hydrangea bush growing up against the house just outside the window. The plant is growing to face the light so I was looking at the back sides of dozens of broad, fringed leaves as they reached eastward. The sun was shining full upon it and the bush was illuminated like Jesus at the Transfiguration, like an Old Testament Angel, like the Blessed Virgin Mary suddenly manifested in a grotto somewhere. I was stunned. I didn’t’ wonder why I never noticed it before because it wasn’t here before. Two months ago I was staring at the bush’s rangy bare limbs and thinking I should clip it back a bit to encourage fuller growth. But I didn’t get around to it. The plant was just as happy to find its own shape.
The two camellias that flank the hydrangea keep their leaves year-round. Their leaves are darker, tougher, a bit leathery. They love the sun too of course, but they seem to reflect rather than absorb the light. The hydrangea’s leaves are pale green, soft, more malleable. They are imbibing the sunshine. They are becoming that which they love.
This daily illumination of the hydrangea doesn’t last long, an hour or so, before the planet turns and the light shifts. Nor will these leaves last long. In winter, the bush will drop its foliage. Of course, it is a truism that life’s temporal nature gives it its sweetness, just as it gives poetry a purpose, I suppose.
I am attending my hydrangea most mornings now, and I hope to write a poem or two. We’ll see.
Portrait of hydrangea by this author.