Since the first of the year, the days here in sunny So Ca have been unseasonably cold and occasionally wet. Several times a day, in and out of the house with dog, in and out of the car with groceries, with book bags (literally, bags o' books), with jackets in arms, once shed, abandoned and retrieved from the car, with leash, with ball, with muddy feet, I walk out past our rose garden.
Our rose garden--53 years old--another woman's treasure. Our rose garden belonged to our home's third occupants: not the 1930's-era Macy's furniture buyer, or the former general who sent away to Sears for plans for our house, but to the camelia horticulturalist and his wife, his wife who preferred roses. (We bought the home from the fourth owners, one of whom had once interned at the finest nursery in Pasadena, and had a verve for flower arrangements. Her rose arrangements "sold" me on the house, over twelve years ago. Not as skilled as Wallace Stevens, I toy with the art, understanding it very little. But I love my roses nonetheless. A sample of my latest creation is in the photo above.)
Anyway, no season surprises me more about roses--which have their pert season, the one where the insects first discover them, then the season they grow rank and stem-molded, and the season it's hard to cut them from the stalk before their little nethers are showing, so warm and ripe--indeed, little surprises me more about the seasons of roses than this season, this impossible January season, where the buds stay tight as long as they can, preserved as if in a nursery, and picturesque with drops. Where the roses themselves seem to belie winter, seem to speak back to short days, seem to promise something before failing at it. Every monday I wonder, will this be the week the gardener decides they are finished and cuts them back? This is the season of symbiosis and surprises. This is the season where the roses to me seem juxtaposed and various, seem to me like poetry.
One week, I ran into my gardener's young assistant: his wife was about to have a baby. It was fall. He carried around his phone. The next week, a red rose I'd been eyeing, a perfect red bud was gone after the gardeners came. It was hers, I hoped. No Rapunzel rules around here. The gardener, John, once told me that it makes them sad to watch the roses they care for die on the vine.
And now, it's full-on winter, as winter as California can get. Seeing them there--my garden's last Abraham Lincoln (a dark red, meant for bud-cutting, dainty as petticoats when it later opens), and my last Ballerina (fat and pink and white), a half-dozen lemon drops (with their faint ghost of citrus), I never go outside without thinking I should cut them. Cut them before the rain gets them. The rain that is always threatening.
Later in the sink, my house is filled with earwigs and fat spiders. All the symbiant, hiding life that took refuge inside the petals. Can you imagine sleeping in a rose? eating in a rose? all the wet winter long....And what are the insects symbiant in ideas, in creativity, in mind? The houses made by roses!
Rose gathering in rain reminds me of one of my favorite metrically lopsided, rhyming-and-repeating delicious little poems, by British poet, Louis MacNeice (and it's well-worth clicking through the biography of this capable, quirky, orderly man who made his living in words and the world--not just poems):
The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was
Spawning snow and pink roses against it
Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:
World is suddener than we fancy it.
World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion
A tangerine and spit the pips and feel
The drunkenness of things being various.
And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world
Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes–
On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of your hands–
There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.
by Louis MacNeice
(not my roses)