I Wish You Could: Plumeria (Frangipani)



I wish you could see the Plumeria flowers here. They're also called Frangipani, which I like more, maybe because it seems the least popular of the names. I pick it like I pick the ripest banana from the bowl. Because I assume others won't, and because I love making banana bread, anyway.

The Frangipani's soft petals, rounded and white like beluga fins, are cinched together at the base by a yellow as bright as the beginning. It's what your teacher tried to get you to do in art class. Yellow doesn’t turn white, it slides into it, like the ocean slides into sand. The distinction is right there, but you cannot point to it, to where one thing begins and another ends. The difference is a process not a perimeter, a seamless becoming, sort of like these houses (where I wish you were too) where one property fades into another, through space, time, and trees.

Frangipanis bloom from Spring to early Fall. It is just now September, so the blossoms are already being combed loose by a wind that has been going on since I woke up.

I wish you could feel the wind here. It is warm and constant. It will blow away the towel you thought you tucked into the lounge chair. And the slick pages of a fresh New Yorker will curl and almost rip, from beneath the French press you placed on top, thinking, that should do.

This wind is strong, but it is not mean. It is not a pair of hands yanking and pulling at the young scalp of the land. This wind is more like a long distance runner’s breath, deep and intense in the work she is doing. She is not trying to run from something or chase anything or anybody down. She is just doing her job, keeping things moving, keeping things from getting stagnant. Her exhales shivers the skin of standing water.

I wish you could see the ocean here. Out my window, that body of water pulls at this body. It wants me to trot down and surrender my belongings to it, watch these pages be taken out and away to laconic breadths and depths.

 

You can go later, you tell yourself. After you've done something with weight and shape. So that, as you swim, you will not feel heavy with the rock of nothingness, that dense and undeniable self doubt.

Or maybe you should go now. Maybe it's a good time to dissolve those profuse plans and, like Mary Oliver wrote in response to the question, “Now that I am free, Who am I?” become an "empty, waiting, pure, speechless receptacle." Maybe today you should free yourself from word counts and timers; from whatever systems of evaluation keep you from floating, weightless in the womb of wind and water.

A bird squeaks from a tree you can’t see. It sounds like your dog-at-home’s plea for you to be done with whatever you’re doing. Your head and feet stay angled towards the screen, while your middle parts turn–“It’s ok, I’m almost . . .” you actually say to the empty patio, before you remember yourself. Before you remember you are by yourself. Next to her, watching her.

A dog is there. But she is not your white shepherd from home. She is your own body. Waiting, hoping, then forgetting.

Hours later, you walk down to the beach. The Frangipani are strewn on all the lawns. It feels like one endless and wide wedding aisle, trodden by a ghost flower girl, who has still not reached the altar.

I do, I do, you say to no one, in no words.

Many of the blossoms are bruised brown, scraped or indented by fingernails, time or freshly cut blades of grass.

The Frangipani floating in the pool are drenched a chocolate brown, the same brown a banana peel will turn, if you wait to see it, or even if you don’t. You want to Google it, find out if the science of frangipani and bananas is the same. You want to know that it is all more or less the same in the end, at the beginning, underneath it all. That you are not as far from your world as you think. Alone, but not far. Perhaps even closer in your aloneness, as a closed eye can be closer than an open one.

I wish you could see the sunsets here.

Tonight you will miss it as you are hanging up the wrinkle-prone blouses in your closet. Another night, you are too busy ironing a second draft into a third, when the light goes out. An orange glow, gone.

You step out in your underwear, watching the swirling smoke of that just-snuffed flame of the sky. You imagine God's back, retreating down the hall of night, holding the snuffler.

A smoke still swirls where you stand, too late. It is still beautiful, you think.


The next day, a thousand more flowers and suns like this will drop, with identical beauty; the same oranges and reds will bleed down the pane of the sky, over and over. Beauty is no scarcity here.

But knowing this feels like knowing that a spider will rebuild its web after an errant elbow destroys it, or that the mother bear who's just lost her cubs to a wildfire, will mate before the season is over, before her cub’s bodies even decompose. It feels like when a computer virus turned your whole essay on Robert Frost into stars–rows of densely packed asterisks. You rewrote it from memory until dawn, the sentences reborn squiggly through tears. The second version, risen from nothing, from loss, was probably better than the first, but still your heart breaks. Still, you cry. Not for the essays, not for the sunsets, but for the ever-starting-over of things.

 

The next morning, you hold the frangipani between your thumb and forefinger. You try to put one in your hair. It falls out.

The second time it stays, but the stem tickles your ear, and the sound of rough clean hair against sueded petalskin feels strange, wrong. Plus, now that it’s in your hair, you can’t cup it up to your nose and inhale its undying perfume. Only others can see it. And there are no others.

You take the flower to your nose. You pause first, lean back into the wooden chair. You do not want to seem so eager. You want to smell her like the wind smells her. You wish you could do it with no hands.

You worry that your entire body is like a stray elbow. You regard yourself like the photographer's arm in the photo, or the single dish in the sink.

You have kept the kitchen here clean, the bed made. You want it to look uninhabited. As it was. As you were.

 

As a child, it was the same. You would see pictures in the National Geographic or on Animal Planet, and would long to go to those beaches, where seals lay and palm trees swayed. But framing your young desire was an impossible premise. You longed to go to these places without changing anything about them, without your pink t-shirt sticking like gum on the surface of that paradise, wishing your sandals could be more like their name: smooth, shapeless.

You wished yourself an animal, something already part of that scape, that system of beautiful things. If you couldn't be an animal, an animal behaviorist then: someone whose job it is to crouch behind a rock or in a bush, as close as one could get.

This is sort of how I would play on the family-room floor every night until the age of ten. My head would bow to a plastic mare and foal, my hands would move them slow and careful, trying to mimic the actual mechanics of trot and lope. The rest of my body would be curved behind and away from my playing hands, like a tail you've not evolved out of yet, or a mother, watching, wondering how to play with a daughter whose game is designed for one.

I had to accept the sight of my hands of course, the fingers that animated this figurine herd. I did not notice them then, as I do not notice them now. My hands are one with the worlds they move.

 

I wish you could see me now. How not everything has changed. How this tail of me still waits patiently for the other half to finish. I imagine this patient part as a mermaid's lower half, waiting to be returned to her depths: where, instead of words, there is the gentle whoosh of waves; instead of a coffee mug, the heavy blanket of blue.

She tries, but she misses the weight of the water. How, when you are in it, there is no wind, only waves; no traces telling you where you've been or not been, how much ground you've covered. There is only now, now, and now.

 

I wish you could stay. Because I bet tomorrow, she will wake up and place the Frangipani on the ground.

I bet she'll let the warm wind twirl the blossom like an open umbrella in a storm—not forgotten, not lost, just pried free by a wind too strong, or by hands too weak or too tired.

She will drift down the long aisle to the ocean.

When she gets there, I'm sure she'll stand right where water and sand meet. She will rest there for a while, enjoying how the clay swallows her to the ankles, as if hungry for her. Enjoying how some of her disappears, but is not gone, like chips into wet-batter.

When she wades in, she will look back to see if the waves have erased her footprints yet. But she will not have time.

There is a wave coming, and she must dive under. She closes her eyes, and swims.

I wish you could see her.