Friday I walked through Central Park with two old friends. We began on 96th Street and walked along the stream and little lakes on our way to the Conservatory Garden. There was a slight drizzle for about twenty minutes, but nobody ran for cover, not the children playing or the picnickers on the hill.
Mallards were everywhere, showing us their feathery butts, diving, dunking in the lakes. Robins bathed and ate worms, grackles splashed iridescently and cardinals and blue jays bent the budding branches swinging in the breeze.
The gardens were abundantly beautiful too. Tulips, daffodils, trees in blossom. Magnolia petals fell on my friends Tom and Martin as they sat on a bench. It was just what they wanted. After an awful week with terrible news, the soothing blossoms coming on the wind were very comforting.
“The immortality of Flowers must enrich our own,” Emily Dickinson wrote, “and we certainly should resent a Redemption that excluded them.” The flower binds us all bringing joy when it blooms, sadness when it falls petal after petal; although we can return to joy again when we remember what ends begins, and what we choose to do with that depends.
“In the dooryard fronting an old farm-house near the white- …..wash’d palings,
Stands the lilac-bush tall-growing with heart-shaped leaves of …..rich green,
with many a pointed blossom rising delicate, with the perfume …..strong I love,
With every leaf a miracle – and from this bush in the dooryard,
With delicate-color’d blossoms and heart-shaped leaves of rich …..green,
A sprig with its flower I break.”
“I will be the gladdest thing under the sun!
I will touch a hundred flowers
And not pick one.”
Edna St. Vincent Millay
Tom and I
The writer, Djelloul Marbrook, recently told me a personal story. Years ago when he was a journalist working in Washington DC, he got very depressed and nothing, not booze or drugs would do the trick. At lunch, he started to go to the National Gallery of Art. There he saw paintings by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot that gave him solace and he continued to return to them.
He was particularly lifted by the way Corot painted the undersides of leaves and wrote a poem about it, realizing too that the artist had painted this for him. He was the reason, Corot’s raison d’être. In a world like that, Djelloul could no longer be depressed and decided to get on with it. Here is the poem he wrote about it:
Undersides of leaves
Painter of undersides of leaves,
shuddered cubist light, Corot
held seconds in his hands,
listening to their murmurings.
Aspens were his populace.
Conspiring with their haste to go,
he daubed their babbling whispers
with scents of sisters fled.
The cool nostalgias of your genes
confide Corot is your native due.
Before you came as hostages here
you were notes struck upon the air.
…Ville D’Avray by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot
Walking down my block today, good old East 9th Street, I looked at the blossoming trees and the trees whose buds were about to burst into leaves. They didn’t appear out of nowhere. Back in the early 90s, a man who lived in my building, Paul Terry, saw to it that the trees were planted by the city. He did all the politicking to have it done. Back then, the devastated block with buildings burnt and vacant lots, didn’t have any trees on the street from C to B.
Later, Paul died of AIDS. I’ve looked for a photo of him and can’t find one, but here are his blossoms, his trees as real as Corot’s leaves, as real as the people in Boston who ran toward the explosion, not away from it, aware that at any moment another one might occur, but that didn’t stop them, no, they bent attending to the victims who lay there unconscious or moaning with and without legs among all the chaos the world had just strewn. But the blossoms in spring are always promising; hopefully they say, “So be it.”