Learn the Flowers

By | 1 August 2015

Entry for February 5th, 1798.
Wordsworth walks
to Stowey with Coleridge. She observes
some trees putting up red shoots.
And then, innocently, she signs off:
Query—What trees are they?.

In twelfth-grade philosophy class
you visited a Buddhist temple, somewhere
out Springvale way. One of the monks
—the Venerable someone—spoke

of the Buddha, of the Middle Way, and of monastic
life in the Melbourne surburbs: alms bowls
filled with chips from the chicken shop
or those wafer biscuit straws.

Two centuries after Wordsworth
comes Gary Snyder, who takes nature and boils it down
to Mother Metonymy: learn the flowers.

Learn them for your grandchildren, whose
nature is not the enclosure, but the enclosed.

Only by learning the flowers
may we invert the inversion, and live
to usher in the 22nd

It’s normal in art to laud
prolepses of woe. We hunger for them
because determinism—if we
conceive of will as external-bearing

(not like sea eagle or rat
might a parasite, but fully integrated
with rill and feldspar, orchid beds)—
is the nightmare proven true.

It’s true, we know it, we get on.
Dorothy might have learnt the name.
But who knows? That’s not crucial
to know. What’s crucial

is to arrange our conjecture
into clusters, figure those clusters as newborn
dogs, crazed for milk—
one swollen place to get it.

And no birds sing. You must change your life.
I have wasted my life. Learn the flowers.
Query—What trees are they?

At session’s end, you walked out astonished
how crazy, how dismal
the monks looked: their bald heads,
red togas, dumb alms bowls.

Notice how Snyder—a white monk, a man of influence
in the Buddha’s mission West—seems
to convert, almost precisely, the much older
query—blinder, too, as Wordsworth

cannot have known how loaded those five words, one m-dash and one question mark

would grow—into imperative,
a call to arms. Much as Wright answers
Rilke in converse fashion:
wastes, does not change, his life.

Flowers. The number you know by name
at sighting, roughly equal
to the number of times you’ve entered
houses of worship. Catholic churches, for instance:

Once for a second cousin’s wedding.
Once for your nonna’s funeral.
Once to see Gaudi’s handiwork
which happened to involve a cathedral.
You butchered Joy to the World on the bells once.

Most dismal of all: their hairy
white skin. You called them dumb
to their faces, your teacher
at reception giving the class’s alms.

It is, in other words, you
and your like must learn.
But you won’t, cant.
You’re in your own way.

That’s how it is with knowledge
as with seed: worthless to sow out of season,
on bad ratios of sunlight, water, nitrogen
and whatever else (you could kill a weed

with your brand of care) if
the thing is to take up as a living,
breathing, fruiting, perhaps
flowering enterprise.

Learning the flowers takes time.
Time, patience, tenderness, the fortitude
to linger somewhere
long enough to understand

(stay together/learn the flowers/go light).

Groping almost in the dark
as to your ancestry, beyond Australia
the land holding no significance,
all long-held attachments to place

having been sacked to make do, you
could never engage in
rites of faith called old-
ways, of a people

And yet, you are the absolute
incipience of the last cycle
of indigeneity:
indigeneity to the planet Earth

and therefore of what names beam down
to the natives as life-giving.

With no prospect of learning
to know a tulip
when you see one, however, what does it matter?
What do you know?
Whose graves are you digging?

But there may be a lifeline.
Convert Snyder’s meadow,
Wordsworth’s tree into a budding grove
of trademarks. Cars, for example.

And the teat swells.
You can describe make, model, year, even name
of paint (Gunmetal Grey a favourite).
You have learnt every flower
taught you by the elders.

You are all the dearest
catalogues learned to the letter,
the seed. You project, you dog,
the history of the future.

Imagine—if everyone but you
were to perish from ignorance
tomorrow, you could recreate it all
from memory, like Koori elders
the Dreaming. This you know.

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