Study with Crape Myr­tle

The Iowa Review - - FRONT PAGE - Lia pur­pura

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.

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