Thursday, September 4, 2014

Essay into poem or poem into essay? Or try it as flash fiction...

This weekend I wrote an essay about a lavender labyrinth; I feel the writing was good but I still wonder if it would make a better poem. This kind of cross-genre hopping helps me figure out what is the most essential way to tell something. If I try it as a flash fiction, a poem, or short story and it doesn't feel more deeply itself, then the first form is probably the right one. But the exercise of writing from another angle reveals more of what can be said.

Here it is as an essay, poem to come soon:

The Lavender Labyrinth Named Laverinth, on My Ex Husbands Farm

The 180 small plants are finishing their first year after a hard winter. The lavender, or more exactly the Lavandin Phenomenal hybrid (Lavandula x intermedia 'Phenomenal') are now the size of cabbages, but soft and prickly as fir needles. In a couple of years they should reach above my knees. They flowered earlier in the summer. The silvery green leaves and stems release a gentle floral and bitter camphor scent when I rub them with my finger. I remember the same aroma rising from my grandmothers dresser drawers where velvet gloves, buttressed girdles, yellowing handkerchiefs, and partial dentures rested in honorable rows. My husband Jim and I follow the path of clover through four quadrants in eight rings; our feet the beating rhythm that speeds the crickets and briefly flattens the white and purple clover blossoms. This is no maze where all but one path dead ends, too grim for contemplation, this is one path to the center of all things, under a shifting sky of cloud and early September light. 

The labyrinth is next to a quiet country road. As we turn the bends, our elemental spirit, the dog Sadie, at first follows on the tarp covered curves, where small bushes of lavender poke out of diamond cuts. She takes off and wants to cross the street to investigate the neighbors horses, and we call her back. She bounds, the size of a barn cat, long body leaping on short legs. She finds a musky spot between lavender and clover, and rolls in it, her black and tan limbs upside down dancing the joy of being. 

We talk and pace, taking photos, watching the sunlight and clouds alternately illuminate and cloak fields and barns, while our hosts bend and weed the 2,908 lavender plants (Lavendin Grosso, with less floral scent and a higher oil yield) in the fields on the hill behind their stone farmhouse. Once the plants mature, this will be the largest or second largest lavender farm in New York State. Dave, Diane, and our daughter Natalie tend the straight lines with mowers, scissors, and gloved hands. 

What should I contemplate in this curving artery of plants? My life plan no longer numbers in decades...I may have several years, or months, but the hope of a cure, or stasis, keeps me living less elegiacally. I embrace Dianne's wish I take a contemplative walk. I can accept there is this day, this turn on the path, this scent of evaporating dew released from leaf and earth. The air tastes fresh and the view is clear. My loving companion is just behind me. Our shoes and pant cuffs grow damp. The dog sniffs her journey. The crickets declare, "here now, here now," to lure a mate before the frost. They don't know this is their one season, they're hardwired to fiddle their desire. The sun heats my neck and shade cools it. Around and around, I begin to hear folk songs I once listened to on vinyl records. The Celtic music we play when we're feeling romantic. And around. I think of The Secret Garden, a novel that made a garden one of the main characters and made me want both children and roses to thrive. I hope to see this labyrinth grow to its full strength, just as I hope the Allen's make a success of their livelihoods here in the Adirondacks. I want my grandchildren to run or crawl through this clover, even if I don't get to greet them at the end or lead them in at the beginning. It may seem impossible I am friends with my ex and his wife, we defy convention. They are so better suited to each other than we were. Me a farmer? Never. My husband, my Jim, is in synch with me. We claim membership in the artist class, bohemians, or as my grandmother said, lives of genteel poverty. I have no regrets, Dave and I raised daughters who have become admirable women. We have good partnerships. Natalie and Caitlin will walk these pathways alone or with their loves. The same sun will warm their arms and ears. 

Whatever makes the clover spring back from footsteps is strong in me. My fingernails are tree rings showing bands for each round of chemo. Each time I must recover strength, appetite, sleep, laughter, and a desire to walk, write, draw, and take photos. Each time I must travel this path and recenter myself. Leave regret at the entry, not worry about what waits in the future, feel my weight shift from foot to foot, breathe in and out, until end of the path appears. 

This labyrinth is a shifting vista from the plants and insects at my feet to the 360 degree view.  Staying aware of the present moment, with my senses, takes practice. I am so used to tuning out conversations and sense distractions around me. I sink into the thin attachments of friendship in social media, exist in the chaotic replay of music fragments and to do lists, automatic analysis of type kerning, composition, and color (the side effect of being a graphic designer), rerun old hurts or difficult conversations, and replay scenes from miniseries and novels; that is my conscious mind. I am calmer and become a better writer when I live in the heartbeat of time. All the senses flow through the labyrinth. It can travel with me, if I need to relax. I can recall the cricket song, sun heating my skin, sharp sweet scent, an echo of clambering into the private spaces within hedges as a girl, small wind cooling my scalp, the crunch and rustle of my man and dog pacing behind or ahead of me, seeing the barn, horse, road, old schoolhouse filled with hay wheels, van, farmhouse, gigantic maple tree, lavender rows, hill, mountains, cloud, sun, and feeling my own body still carrying me, step by step, breath by breath through this chambered green heart on a hillside in Washington county.
Laverinth: a lavender labyrinth for meditative walking.

My dog Sadie bounding through the labyrnth.

A cricket sings from the safety of the lavender leaves.

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