Tuesday, June 26, 2012

`All the Wild Flowers of the Burren'

I returned to Houston a year ago this Friday in the middle of a drought, the long one, the one we suspect may never have ended but merely withdrew to re-energize for the next assault. The Texas Forest Service estimates the state lost 10 percent of its trees in 2011, more than 500 million of them. Imagine being part of the survey now underway to fix a precise count. Crews are visiting 700 wooded plots around the state. They tally the dead trees in a 75-foot radius and note others damaged by the drought and at risk for insects and disease. Grim work.

But just as wildflowers grow lushly in small rural cemeteries, so too the well-adapted wildflowers of Texas have rallied without rain. Roadsides are dense with them, especially Coreopsis lanceolata, as though defying the heat wave, with temperatures exceeding 100 in the day and not dropping below 80 degrees overnight. The rallying flowers remind me of Michael Longley’s “The Ice-Cream Man” (Gorse Fires, 1991): 

“Rum and raisin, vanilla, butter-scotch, walnut, peach:
You would rhyme off the flavours. That was before
They murdered the ice-cream man on the Lisburn Road
And you bought carnations to lay outside his shop.
I named for you all the wild flowers of the Burren
I had seen in one day: thyme, valerian, loosestrife,
Meadowsweet, tway blade, crowfoot, ling, angelica,
Herb robert, marjoram, cow parsley, sundew, vetch,
Mountain avens, wood sage, ragged robin, stitchwort,
Yarrow, lady’s bedstraw, bindweed, bog pimpernel.”

Longley wrote the poem for his daughter in the nineteen-eighties after the sectarian murder of an ice-cream man in Belfast. Just as Sarah lays carnations outside the dead man's shop, Longley brings an offering not of flowers but of their names, a poetic gift. The Burren is the karst limestone region in County Clare, renowned for wildflowers and butterflies. It may be worth noting that many of Longley’s flowers are relied on by practitioners of herbal medicine. They heal.

1 comment:

B.R. said...

Dear P.K.
Thanks for this post. Your words about the poet bringing "an offering not of flowers but of names" was very resonant.

Reminds me of Milton's Lycidas (Bring the rathe Primrose that forsaken dies./The tufted Crow-toe, and pale Jasmine,/The white Pink, and the Pansie freakt with jeat,/The glowing Violet.

I stumbled upon your blog - via various rabbit paths. Glad that I did. Nicely done.