Tuesday, December 04, 2007

By any other name

He picks up the latest issue of Poetry, reads it on the subway:

in his mother's garden, magnolia, hibiscus,
azalea, peony, pear, tulip, iris;

The words are meaningless to him, because he's never learned the names of flowers, can't identify them at all. Oh, he knows the rose of course, and he can identify sunflowers thanks to Van Gogh, and bloody daffodils, but beyond that he draws a blank. He has no idea, for instance, what a white hawthorn is, or an eglantine. And as for telling an azalea from a peony, forget it. (Is it possible to be flower blind? he wonders).

Not that this is his only failing. He's no good at telling trees apart, either, can't identify a single bird by its call. He's not even particularly good at naming colors.

For most people, of course, these would be minor failings, barely worth remarking. For a poet they are a serious handicap. Coming out of the station, he passes the flower shop on 72nd and Amsterdam. The rich variety of form and color, the myriad species of flowers that he cannot begin to name. It makes him miserable just looking at them.

He wonders if there's a course he can take to learn this stuff.

P.S. For those of you who may be tempted not to click the link, it turns out that Poetry is now available online - not just extracts, the whole thing - free (and right after I mailed in my check with the subscription too! Ah, well). So go, read and enjoy.

14 comments:

Tabula Rasa said...

if he's on 72nd and amsterdam he should just bloody well duck into bacchus and forget this poppycock (haha) in their free tastings.

Space Bar said...

come come. if he knows sunflowers via van gogh, he should also know irises. and tulips via winterson and magnolias via...no, probably not...harling?

Lekhni said...

The 72nd and Amsterdam flower shop reference reminded me - it was probably that very flower shop that I once went into, trying to pick flowers for a friend. Not knowing flower names has one more consequence - you also don't know what those flowers are supposed to signify. Red roses, I know, but yellow roses? Tulips? carnations? Unnamed white flowers along with unnamed pink ones?

Falstaff said...

TR: True. Except that then he'll be reminded of how he can't tell wines apart either.

SB: Nah, see, when you say iris it makes him think of O'Keefe. Magnolias and Harling, yes, but it's a word association only - no image to go with it.

lekhni: Ah, but see that's what mixed bouquets are for - hide your ignorance and seem enigmatic at the same time.

Anonymous said...

Who cares what they look like? They sound great and its all that matters. A rose by any other name would read as sweet and all that. This from the woman who waxed eloquent about nutmeg just because it sounded nice and warm and buttery without ever having smelt, tasted or even seen one.

n!

blackmamba said...

pre-set mixed bouquets just say you forgot all about the flowers and grabbed up the first bunch from the floral section at the nearest chain supermarket. - not cool (and definitely not enigmatic)

unless of course, you refer to personalized mixed bouquets created by the florist - in which case, it would just mean, you paid an extra gazillion for the arrangement and just want to show off your $$.

Falstaff said...

n!: Know what you mean. I personally love thyme, though I couldn't for the life of me tell you what it tastes like.

bm: No, no. What you do is, you go into a florists, select a bunch of flowers totally at random, ask him to tie them up together in a bouquet (saying "Yes" in a strong, self-confident voice when he says "Are you SURE, sir?" in a pained voice). That way a) the bouquet looks customized b) no one, least of all you, can figure out what you're trying to say with it and c) you either get it right and come off as this totally sensitive, soulful type or you get it wrong and then get the whole 'poor guy, he tries so hard but really needs a woman in his life' vibe going for you. The only way this can go wrong is if you match things together too well, and she comes to the conclusion that you're gay.

blackmamba said...

falstaff, its all nice on paper, isn't it? take it from me. atleast on the phone - it is a whole 'nother monster. first you get a list of names thrown at you. you go with say, 4 of them. Then you say, put these together in a bouquet please. Well, the person on the other end tells you, "I can't do that!". (how are you supposed to know only a "flower designer" can tie a bunch of flowers together). So after another 5 mins of trying to understand why it is impossible for her to do it, you hear this, "oh, let me get Pierre, our flower designer. please hold." Listen to some random jazz / classical music. Finally this person with an over-the-top french accent gets on the phone. He will politely tell you what he thinks of your choice of flowers. Go on to recommend a few additions and removals. You say you are sure you don't want a change - this person loves this combination. You hear him groan.

Then comes the starbuck-y options part - which vase, ribbon, what height, should he throw in some of these leaves or those, what should the message say, how would you like it said, what font, color, if you just added 2 more flowers to the bunch, you get a special discount, do you want this sent off before noon... argh... never go there. just call and say,#3, and proceed with reciting your cc number and name. it just isn't worth it.

Tabula Rasa said...

i sense this thread heading inexorably towards the chrysanthemum in the buttonhole denouement.

Space Bar said...

TR: Better yet, the chysanthemum-in- the-flowerpot-dropped- with- energy-and-vim-on-The-Efficient-Baxter-path.

Or is that the primrose path to eternal damnation?

Aargh!

Tabula Rasa said...

space bar:
quate.

Anonymous said...

People still send flowers? I thought flowers were only for weddings and funerals. For every other occasion, there's wine.

Haven't called a florist in years. Is this a skill I should develop?

n!

blackmamba said...

n!: no, No. I hope you never have to develop that skill(?!) but what do you do when someone decided to get you an expensive gift and you have no idea what to get them in return (you don't know what they read, or if they read).

I thought flowers would be the lamest thing to get these people without seeming like I really don't care. how hard can it be, I thought? well, wrong. now I will just stick with crate & barrel / pottery barn gift cards.

[if any of you have recieved either mixed bouquets or c&b / pb gift cards, well, never mind.]

blackmamba said...

n!- I missed the bit about wine. yes, but I still think it is easier to deal with a florist. really.