Irises. Vincent van Gogh (Dutch, 1853 - 1890). Saint-Rémy, France.
1889. Oil on canvas. 74.3 × 94.3 cm (29 1/4 × 37 1/8 in.) Courtesy
J. Paul Getty Museum Open Content Program
Memory Is Organic
Early warmth urged green-fingered hands up from soil. Iris bulbs driven by need to resurrect, unbury what had been blacked out beneath the surface until strong sun penetrated, woke them. When the irises flower this March, I will resist mind-seeing my friend and mentor again, one year since she held court in her living room’s mid-century modern recliner, another consignment store find. She had a knack for looking carefully and into corners, for noticing, showcasing beauty. That March she shrank daily, unlike the tumors inside, becoming shadow; wisp; waif. But her authoritative tone remained, still her contagious laugh spilling over mouth’s brim, broad smile so comforting. Three of us summoned to say goodbye as a group that day, at an appointed hour, could not comfort back, could only sit for the assigned duration, making stilted conversation, conversation meant for continuation, meant for the living. Just as the iris bulbs she gave me have risen, bloomed, died back each year in their own way and time, my friend lived longer than expected. They were blooming in my yard as she was dying, as I was reading the last novel she would ever write, about an artist trapped inside a wrecked body. My mother’s cancer then also had re-bloomed in her chemo-broken body. She fought longer than my friend, surrendered more quickly—from the day I watched her doctor withhold, force her to ask how long? reluctantly answer. When the irises bloom again, I will refuse to think of my mother who loved irises, think how my friend transported and tended and shared the bulbs another woman had poured into her cradling arms years ago, the arms she once cradled her only daughter in. These irises, not yet loose and opening, not yet offering purple-blue velvet unfurling, shock of gold stamen, are readying to bring up from earth’s basement the secrets that nourished them through the past year, through cold seasons, and soon will, despite my resistance, force me to remember.
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