A dialectic of dark and light—and magnolias blossoming like afterthought

Somewhere, deep in a comprehensive exam prep period this semester, hopped upon caffeine and too much sugar and too little sleep and overwhelmed with stress about the upcoming test and the repercussions of failing, a phrase from Natasha Trethewey’s Native Guard jumped up and grabbed me by the throat.

I returned to a stand of pines,
                            bone-thin phalanx
flanking the roadside, tangle
                            of understory—a dialectic of dark
and light—and magnolias blossoming
                            like afterthought: each flower
a surrender, white flags draped
                            among the branches.
                                   –“South”  Natasha Trethewey
I was first struck by the ‘dialectic of dark and light’–I was in the middle of both Paradise Lost and The Republic,and had just finished Spring and All,  so I was thinking about conflicts and contrasts and everything that can be summed up in the binary opposites of “dark and light”.
But then.
magnolias blossoming like afterthought. Afterthought. Not perhaps considered as important as the dialectic, but somehow serving as the extra, the excess, that makes the dialectic ok. That makes everything ok. The dialectic of light and dark is structure and repression and rules for behavior and so much restriction and requirements–but life and spring and rebirth and regeneration and magnolias somehow redeem it all.

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My walks in spring are constantly interrupted by my need to record all of the beauty around. I never seem to tire of the flowers–these are a few of my favorites from the past few weeks.

Watch the flocks of wild phlox appear, disappear.

C–who got his undergrad degree at the same university that I’m getting my grad degree– jokes that he sees more of the campus’s flowers now, through my pictures, than he ever did as a student. To which remark I roll my eyes and invariably reply with some idiotic crack about stopping and smelling the roses or seeing the forest for the trees. (oh, so so clever.)  And then I take another picture.

Here’s what has been catching my eye lately:

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My title is from “Talking Back to the Mad World” by Sarah C. Harwell. I think this is what I love so much about these flowers–they are a gift. They are unexpected, I don’t do anything to grow them. I wander by and they are just there–beautiful, someone else’s responsibility, I just enjoy.

I will not tend. Or water,
pull, or yank,
I will not till, uproot,

fill up or spray.

The rain comes.
Or not. Plants: sun-fed,
moon-hopped, dirt-stuck.

Watch as flocks
of wild phlox

appear, disappear. My lazy,
garbagey magic
makes this nothing

I love
the tattered
camisole of
nothing. The world
runs its underbrush
course fed by
the nothings I give it.

Wars are fought.
Blood turns.
Dirt is a wide unruly room.

–Talking Back to the Mad World, Sarah C. Harwell
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Moments of beauty

I pulled over on my way to school today to take pictures of the most beautiful pink dogwood.

Standing close to the trunk of an immense pale pink tree is a very odd moment of pure beauty: the sun–which a moment ago was merely that which had made my car so hot–creates such beautiful shadows and depth within the branches; the breeze–rather than merely constantly blowing my hair into my eyes– made everything shift and rustle; the proliferation of pink blooms is so sharply outlined against a brilliant blue sky… it’s overwhelming and little unsettling.

I would have liked to stay there for hours, staring up, entranced, at the shifting branches. But alas, that wasn’t exactly on my agenda.

Nonetheless, this moment of unanticipated and overwhelming beauty just made my day.

Never saw the sun shinin’ so bright, never had things going so right

April in South Carolina almost makes up for August- the air is beautifully crisp, the sky is impossibly and brilliantly blue, the dogwood absolutely glows in the sunshine. It might just be my favorite month.

Ginger and I took a long walk this morning in the meandering streets behind my house. She chased squirrels, I took pictures and listened to Villette (which I’ve never read before and am loving.)

Aren’t these gorgeous? They were growing several feet above my head, so I kind of hung on the side of a fence and madly snapped pictures with the other hand. I do hope the owners of said fence were still asleep.

Off to the salt mines, but I hope your day is as beautiful as mine has begun, and that you get a chance to enjoy it.