It’s May Day! I’ve only just realized it as I typed the date into the top of this letter.
I’m sitting in the public library, having decided not to go to school today. I dawdled around the house for awhile, and just as I was about to leave, I spotted the marigold seeds I had bought several days ago. Confession: I am, not unexpectedly, a compulsive seed buyer, hoarder, and planter. I dream about my plants almost every night, and I wake up in the morning eager to tend to them, wishing they had drunk more so that I could water them again. After I’ve inspected them all for dryness, I run my fingers over the tips of the basil seedlings to simulate a light breeze… Susie told me, when she was visiting, that it makes them stronger.
I put on my backpack and slipped the marigold seeds into my pocket and went outside. Nine o’clock and sunny, brilliant, the sky already a perfect pure blue when my alarm went off at seven. The sun had flattened itself out in a possessive layer of heat and nourishment on top of the garden box, carefully covering every corner of it in photons, slipping around the possible shadows offered by the not-yet-leafy maple tree and the glorious wreck of the neighbors’ German camping van (the interior is covered entirely in faded orange shag carpet, relic of the previous owner, who pasted the carpeting to every surface for the purpose of cheap and outrageous insulation; he did a lot of ice fishing). The sprouts are everywhere: radish, spinach, arugula, black kale, green kale, Swiss chard.
I inspected the box for extra space to plant the marigolds. To be honest, there was no room for them. I shave inches off of every spacing recommendation, fudging it in my head, pushing aside the niggling voice that reminds me there is no way to beat nature and I will eventually have to thin them out – silence! It is something for Future Jenn to worry about!
The marigolds, though. “This is the one that will suppress ‘bad’ nematodes in your soil,” the seed package informs me. Do I have nematodes, bad or otherwise? I think not, because this is new soil, fresh from the landscaping supply lot, uncontaminated by weeds or nematodes or other horrors. Nevertheless the seed package encourages me. Perhaps I need marigolds after all. They will be beautiful, and I seem to recall that they are a good “companion” plant for vegetables.
The real reason I want to plant marigolds is the movie “Monsoon Wedding,” which I am sure that you have seen. I wonder how well you remember it? There are many images from that movie which circulate in my mind, though few of them have to do with the main characters or the primary thrust of the plot. One of them is the servant girl sitting in the mirror wearing her mistress’s jewellery, tilting her chin with one slender index finger and flirting with her reflection like a Bollywood star. Another is of the hapless wedding organizer, skinny and awkward and often berated by his mother. He is erecting the decorations for the wedding and in a moment of tranquillity he plucks a dense, ruffly marigold – like a pom-pom – from a garland and carefully places the entire thing in his mouth, and eats it. Many things about this image speak to me: how he does it entirely without thought, a natural action carried out by his body, or even his soul, while his busy mind is elsewhere. It reveals a certain sweetness and depth to his character, this habit which has remained untouched by the nagging of his mother or his own peevish anxieties or the ridicule of his employees. There is also something magical, I think, about eating flowers. About taking something so beautiful into your mouth, whole. Maybe letting it exist there for a moment, balanced on your tongue in that dark cavern, and then swallowing it into your body.
I lay in bed last night reading “The Satanic Verses” and in the latest chapter we have encountered a woman who eats butterflies; it’s the same thing. Anyhow, I will grow marigolds. I imagine I will eat at least one.
I should abandon this letter for work, but as always when talking to you, a thousand tangents suggest themselves: both the garden and the fact that it is May Day remind me of my favourite family, in London, and many stories about them. The glorious May Day party at their funny little unfinished house in Kodaikanal; the rooftop allotment garden I helped them plant when I visited last summer, surely one of the best things I have ever done for another person; double-decker bus rides and orange trees and dreams of Indian palaces. I wanted to tell you about the crow I saw chasing a black squirrel along the power line, as both squawked and chattered, and about the noise that the poppies at 16th and Ontario made when I ran my fingers over their hairs. It was like a miniature rain stick, the ever-so-slightly brittle spines rattling against each other as I stroked them. The plants were silver-green and each surface was covered with perfect hairs, each one distinct, an impenetrable force field around stem and leaf and bud.
Most of all, maybe, I wanted to tell you about sitting down cross-legged on the warm pavement and smiling, and feeling the spring growth surging up all around me and filling me with the sure knowledge that it will be okay. And that I couldn’t possibly know this without everything I’ve learned over the past year and a half, the fraught eighteen months since I met you, in which perhaps everything went wrong, but actually went right, or, as always in the world, exactly as it had to go. Everything is unknown, as you often try to tell me. But I think maybe I realize it better than you do.