By John Price
Each petal of most flowers contributes to the whole
In the simple zinnia
The entire flower
Folds upon itself
Back, back in recedes around the center
Or their subdued and simple giving themselves
Not in aimless beauty
But in underlying giving
My father had a green thumb. Before he died, he taught me a few simple lessons about growing things. I particularly recall carrots and zinnias. Like most kids, I didn’t like raw carrots, but after Dad showed me how they grew, I ate them, albeit reluctantly.
And for some reason, zinnia flowers were also my favorites, maybe because at the time they were pretty easy to grow. The expression that is the zinnia flower is not so beautiful as blossoms go. The entirety of the flower, colorful and symmetrical though it is, has nothing spectacular. Perhaps it is the symmetry of the flowers, for that overcomes the true gaiety of the blossom. The colors are rather plain.
My father died when I was thirteen years old, but I most definitely inherited his green thumb. I’m proud to say it seems I’ve passed that along to my son.
I spend some time nearly every day sitting on my front stoop. There’s afternoon sun, or even bright clouds, most days. The neighbors’ houses are well-kept, and later in the day, I can see children riding Big Wheels and hear them chirping with delight, like the birds just before 9:00 AM.
The lawn grows against the sidewalk, with a few random broadleaf weeds competing for space to put their roots. Their seeds are so small as to barely be seen, carried off by the birds. The underground tendrils vie for space. We see virtually none of this.
Thankfully, it seems like a good year for bees, though many who know those species claim their steady decline might be irreversible. The genocide of chemical killers might have tipped the scales too far toward death. But as I sit, I see what I call a bumblebee making the rounds of the potted flowers and stray loosestrife. One is loaded with pollen stuck to his hind legs. Because of the bee shortage in recent years, this is an uncommon phenomenon. I’m overcome with joy seeing this, as it both recalls much bee watching from childhood and the knowledge first-hand now that the bees just might be coming back.
My mind relives the time when I was twelve and stepped in a beehive. I was stung catastrophically, nineteen times, and had to be carried out of the deep bog up to the road and a car to safety. My aunt put a baking soda poultice on my legs, and I had a miserable night. My cousin Tim carried me and saved me.
Tim died suddenly just a couple of weeks ago. An autobiographical chapter from a movie was brought to life by simply seeing bees doing their rounds.
A neighbor girl walks by, sniffling. I ask her what’s wrong. I thought she’d been stung by a bee, as there are so many around the flowers this time of year, and I’d seen her cutting some loosestrife for a little vase she’d held.
“No, she mumbled.” Her sister was right behind her.
“I thought Bree might’ve been stung by a bee, the way she held her hand.”
“No,” the older sister said. “I just told her she couldn’t go with us to the pool because she hadn’t cleaned her room.”
“Well, little girl, if it wasn’t a bee, even though a bee sting hurts, a bee sting is especially good this year because they haven’t been around much, and the plants need them.”
She looked at me very puzzled, and I gave her the biggest smile I could. She smiled, but I doubt she understood. Maybe someday.
The dark-haired man across the street cuts his lawn while a little boy races up and down the block. The man shouts to him in Spanish, telling him to watch out for traffic, I think. The boy pumps his fist, running faster as if encouraged. The man keeps up with his mower chore in earnest, as do the heavily-laden bees.
They’re just about so full they must be ready to return to their hives, though I can never seem to locate the hives. This return of the bees is also heartening, as the very idea of bee hives nearby has become less and less numerous these past summers.
A few of my living friends dream of changing the world. One or two talks, seriously it seems, still––of the Revolution. They speak loudly of taking things to the point of rebellion and assassination. And some of these people are smart and enlightened in their own ways. They seem to feel they could take down the monolith of evil that grips the planet these days.
Me, maybe I am a coward. But I believe the only revolution is to be found on the front steps, around the kitchen table, singing a song in the meadow. Kissing the children. Watching the zinnias on the porch. Maybe my time has passed. I used to dream of being happy and changing the world at the same time. Now, happiness is its own nest, and the eggs to hatch are mysterious, maybe non-existent. But no doubt there’s a measure of what’s really important right here, watching the zinnias grow: cycles that last.
Sounds draw me from my thoughts. There are children with balls and bikes, some of them talking and laughing with each other in at least three different languages. This phenomenon is one of a few that I literally call joy, a marked enthusiasm about things. Not things I understand from knowing the languages. And I am so happy to not understand. Various people are going past, walking with children and dogs, riding bikes, that truly is enough.
Last night, when starting the grill, I felt a reality of time and nature. There was a bulletin on the television about three escaped prisoners. And I was fairly certain the men on the loose were not in our neighborhood. But as I added some crumpled paper to get the fire going, I wondered if those prisoners ever had this kind of neighborhood in their lives.
Then I looked back down to the object of my reveries. Simple zinnias. I hope the men who escaped took the time to look at zinnias.
In all, about thirty minutes had passed. The grill was going, and I returned to the porch. When I left my gaze go their way, one zinnia had actually opened just a fraction, and I clearly saw the ones around it dancing with welcome. I was taken, overjoyed at watching the zinnias unfold.