poetry: alice walker’s “desire” and my own forays with flowers and water

Photo from The Human Flower Project http://humanflowerproject.com/images/uploads2/ophelia-drowned-painting320.jpg
Photo from The Human Flower Project

I just came across this poem by Alice Walker called “Desire.” It’s gotten under my skin somehow, possibly due to a voluntary caffeine overdose, though I don’t really mind. In fact, I appreciate it. I like it when things get under my skin and when I get dirt under my fingernails.

I came across this poem through my favourite social channel, Dreamwork with Toko-pa — a space that revitalizes and motivates me on a daily basis. So it’s no surprise that it reached me somewhere distant and unspoken, in turn verbalizing reams for me in the span of a a few words. Here is the poem in full:

My desire
is always the same; wherever Life
deposits me:
I want to stick my toe
& soon my whole body
into the water.
I want to shake out a fat broom
& sweep dried leaves
bruised blossoms
dead insects
& dust.
I want to grow
something.
It seems impossible that desire
can sometimes transform into devotion;
but this has happened.
And that is how I’ve survived:
how the hole
I carefully tended
in the garden of my heart
grew a heart
to fill it.

by Alice Walker

Although the whole piece resounds with me, this is especially so with the lines “I want to stick my toe/& soon my whole body/into the water.” Water can be an evocative word meant to symbolize many things — cleansing and purification, religion, and thirst being a few. In this case, I first thought of drowning. Morbid, I know, but hear me out. I almost drowned once in Charleston Lake and it traumatized me for some time. I watched my little brother almost drown and though I was 8 years old I can remember every detail of that afternoon. The thing with drowning is that you can survive it when it’s an active verb and not stated in the past tense. If you’re drowning, you are submerged in water and you are gasping for breath. You either sink and go all the way down or do your best to stay afloat, stay calm and rest on the surface of the water. I also think when one is submerged in water there is a sense of complete immersion — of being one with the water, from body temperature to the senses. Ever notice how if you walk into the water slowly, leading with your feet and testing its coolness with each step, it takes forever to acclimate to the temperature? I believe in jumping in. I always jump right in as long as it’s not too deep, in which case I require some convincing. I shiver for the first bit and then I adjust and warm up to it.

Walker goes on to write about sweeping “dried leaves,” “bruised blossoms,” “dead insects” and “dust.” All things that once lived which we think of as rubbish to be swept away. It’s funny that she used a few of these particular words. Since I was a child I’ve collected dead flowers. I used to collect them from the fields of Southern Ontario and hide them between the pages of books which might still be stored away in my parents’ cabin. I also have a growing collection boxed in glass and displayed in my living room in Dubai, and shoe boxes-full in my parents’ garage in Canada (sorry Dad). I recently bought more glass boxes in which I’ve kept pearls and a red lipstick, however I’ve been considering adding dead exotic insects to the mix. It’s kinda gross but I it reminds me of my childhood and playing with dead insects. All of it does, really. And, like most people, I am fascinated by dried leaves, partly because of that delicious autumn crunch underfoot.

photo from http://zooealice.blogspot.ae/ http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-4XZQuuqZnG8/US6Fx48W2mI/AAAAAAAAAUs/Ys4O6eQINhs/s1600/mood+board+4.jpg

photo from Zooe Alice

I want to say that this “garden” of her heart is filled with all these dead things, because we all collect dead things as we go along. And, like compost, it has created a fertile ground for something rich to grow. That is, a heart. This poem is the opposite of one that I wrote, where I spoke of similar themes of nature, but I couldn’t find hope in it the way Walker did. I found ghosts, though I called it “Things that live.” Perhaps it’s because she was looking into herself, a place that can always be revitalized, and I was looking at others, who are not as dependable as oneself. I will share it below. Please don’t expect any Alice Walker-esque lyrics from me, I am but myself.

Things that live
Flowers in my garden
Which should I clasp dear
To demonstrate how you come and go:
Violets, when you’re far but here.
Forget-me-nots, when I can’t bring you near.
Carnations, for when I’ve lost you
And hope you’ll be reminded;
And poppies, for when you’ve faded,
Since inevitably
You all do.
I planted a seed towards the birth of each
I sow them in your memory
I bred each by each
Now I till the soil in your absence
They grew when I was there
Watering them
We breathed into them our colour
The shape we took
Is in their petals
One.
Velvety thin, to be touched with care
Softly swaying when left alone
A grenadine pink rising from the inside
Another.
A dull tea stain, refused by the sun
Petals sulking
Shriveled at the ends
Its green stem stubbornly holds on
And the others
They lie strewn aside
Fallen flowers
Like straw
Shifted by the wind
Buried by the earth
They gave their color away to time
Now their bones
Are springs
Jutting from the mattress where we sleep
Without you.

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