the frustration of the salvia

Santa Fe is flowering into the monsoon season. St. John’s College cherishes its plantings with irrigation. Though I was in the high desert, the plants interspersed with the bare ground were in their ease of form and leaf and color. For a week, the natural world I moved through showed very little stress.

Then I came back to Austin, Texas. The theoretical season of summer rains — June — is now long over. The landscape’s colors have shifted to all the hues of “sere.” While I was away, the lawn-grass refused to grow. The lambs’-ear has all fallen over in a dry sleep.

Pausing at the entrance to our neighborhood, I looked at the sages and salvias. Fluffy bees hustled among them, working over the flowers. But flowers, once shifting these plants from dusty greens to vivid reds, yellows, and purple-blues, were sparse. The bees had to travel more for much less result.

Today is Glen re-entry day. My chat-spaces are full of friends’ sighs as they wrench themselves from the monsoon-like intensity and rawness of our time together back into the bits and scraps of our usual days. I’d sketched a day full of tackling what remained from before I left, but I haven’t turned to any of it. I should have written “RE-ENTRY” over this day in big letters instead. I might get my suitcase unpacked….


Looking at the salvias with their sparsely-scattered red flowers, I thought about conversations I had with other poet/mothers last week. They spoke of their hunger for the (art) work, the holy charge of family, the confusing tension in contingency. I did my best to affirm those true things, and to share my sense of release now that our nest is (mostly) empty… while all the while deeply knowing how thin a salve I was offering, since it does nothing to alter their present.

Looking at the salvias in the heat, I noticed how few the flowers were right now. I remembered how profuse they’d been after our last big rain. I thought about the handful of poems I wrote while the girls were preschoolers — our most time-consuming season. And how, during that season, I was certain I’d written none. It took the evidence tucked in my portfolio to convince me otherwise — slowly and reluctantly, because the intuition of my heart and mind still shouted, “Absent! Absent.”

I think of my friend with littles — one still so small that a cupcake inevitably yields a full mustache and beard of buttercream — and I want to tell her:

The tension is terrible. I hate/hated it too. But even though the flowers may seem sparse, the blooms still arrive. And someday the summer rains will sluice over you again.

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