Monday, May 11, 2009

Dahlias of the Storm

By early May, when my garden has the promise of green, I've almost recovered from a traumatic scene that takes place during every November's first big storm.
Typically I'll be in the livingroom, peacefully watching a favorite Marx Brothers movie. I'm eating Fritos Scoopers with tahini, and thinking it's almost time to put the three-cheese ravioli on the table. The windows are lashed by icy rain or some variation of huge record-breaking dumpings of snow driven by gale-force winds. I think how cosy it is to be inside, all warm and comfortable.
But as I stare hypnotized at the sleet flowers on the window, very slowly I realize that the storm is sure to bring about the season's first hard freeze. And at these words, the hair on the back of my neck slowly rises. Surely I didn't forget, once again, to dig up the dahlia roots and bring them safely in?
Five minutes later a puny figure can be seen in the garden, through the blizzard, frantically digging. She is alone, since she tried to persuade the family dogs to come out with her, but they were too smart. She spades furiously, trying to separate the dahlia roots from clumps of ice forming around them.
Swags of snow cover this figure and turn her into a shoveling snowwoman, or perhaps there's no snow but only sleety rain under a thunderously swollen black sky torn by zigzags of lightning, striking close. No matter; she digs on, cursing. She has to. Finally the roots are chipped and gouged out, and rushed to the house in a bucket as the snowwoman loudly screams "Shit!" It's painful to recall that only a week before, on a honey-scented, Indian summer afternoon, she had sentimentally admired a late rose.
Six months pass. Spring comes. I put it off, but the day comes, as it always will, when I have to go to the basement and open the bags of dahlia roots I'd sealed shut on that storm-driven night in November. I take a hard look at them. They look dead as nails: dried, shriveled, unpromising. They haven't made it, and it's all my fault. While I was lounging in front of Marx Brothers movies eating Fritos Scoopers heaped with tahini, the fragile dahlia orphans were perishing in the storm.
But then I take another good look. In the cold, dark basement air, it almost seems as though there is a minute red ember on one of the roots. When I keep looking, very close, I gradually see that each root has one or two tiny red fronds. They are sturdy, alive, and seeking the light. And that is all it takes.


  1. Hi Margaret,
    I am coming back to the world after two months of illness. You are so faithful to have sent comments, even when I was out of commission.

    This piece is wonderful. The biggest thing I like about your writing is your vocabulary. You know, I think, that I studied French literature. Having relearned my universe noun by adjective by verb, that language just shimmers. But then I come across a writer like you, and my own language looks magical.

    I also love the visuals -- as if I could draw them. And I like the ruptured narrative from the first person to the third.

    And also the fact that the piece revolves around a single emotional point.


  2. Great piece, mom. The last couple lines tie it together very nicely. (p.s. do I get to fine you for using the 'S' word?)