Study with Crape Myrtle
Say “Once there was a crape myrtle tree . . . ” and right off, it’s a tale, a story with shape, and it moves toward an end. I know there are other ways of saying, like: “What the hell happened at that moment...?” “Let me never . . . ” “Still Life with Thing Indifferent to Me” “To You Who Do Not Need My Eye to Complete You.” I’ve racked up here, as approaches go: inquiry, petition, title, dedication. A simple letter, though, might be best, a form that both leads and wanders, weighs and allows for thoughts come upon. In the receptivity it assumes—a reader, you, settled in a comfortable chair, unsealing the envelope, unfolding the pages—a letter’s a space where presence extends. Dear (if I may), A few weeks ago, walking home with the dog, I took the street off to the side of the college. At the bend is a grand, one-story house, and in its front yard, a spectacular crape myrtle. (The spelling varies: you’ll see “crape” and “crepe”—though neither the flowers nor leaves are particularly crinkly or ribbon-like.) A crape myrtle’s deep pink, hardy blossoms cluster up like fat bunches of grapes. Maybe you know that sketch by Picasso, “Hands Holding Flowers,” popular in the ’60s as an emblem of peace?—that bouquet-in-fist captures exactly the blooms’ angle of flare. The trunks are as smooth as the arms of a girl, sleeveless in summer. But none of these images came to me then—and none of this chatter. There it was. What filled that very long moment unfolding? I should’ve been able to think something— to say “what a beauty” or in stopping short, at least emit an Oh of surprise. But it would not come forth as a specimen. “It” isn’t right at all—and therein was the immediate problem: the tree would not be called anything. Not “crape myrtle.” Not even “tree.” The simplest, singular names weren’t working. I stopped and looked and heard just my own breathing. And being reduced to standing and breathing produced a wave of something fearsome. Cliffs rose, the air sharpened and chilled between us. In the steepness, I was unshimmed, root-cut, insubstantial as pith. The tree sealed itself up with—what? Solitude? A presence so insistently here— being, ungrazed, unsnared, stripped clean—while I really wasn’t anywhere.