What I didn’t know: Islands sink and some of them disappear altogether. It’s easy when landlocked to not realize the properties of water. But maybe this is a property of land, and if so, maybe I know more about islands and sinking than I realize. But what I’d rather think of are the islands we could experience if we would just dip beneath the water’s surface. Some of you know who you are, you are already the surface dippers, already you have explored those islands.
Wait for me.
Some things, the art museum director says, are white light elegant. He sweeps his hand towards a width of wall waiting for the next exhibit. In some cultures, white light is considered to be of the spirit. He might be thinking of watercolors and oil paintings, but I think he also means to include the way lengths of light can wash over us. It’s why he works where he works, why he likes blank walls.
And I think, then, of white light and shore. Which leads me to my mother and how to this day she is both light and shore to me. I doubt she knows this. I could tell her, and in fact I do, but like a sweep of her hand sprinkling flour on her pastry board, the notion comes and goes away for her. She always gets back to rolling out the next pie crust. I’ve come to count on this while fighting an ailment for how many months now. She calls frequently to do the long-distance-lips-to-my-forehead-test to see how I am feeling. We catch each other up.
Mom bought a bag of tulips when she bought her Christmas tree. She tells me this in March, asking “Did I tell you about the bag of tulips?”
December was a warm month for Montana and when she got home with the tree and the tulips, she realized the ground wasn’t frozen yet. It’d be nothing to get her little garden shovel and plant most of those bulbs. And so she did. And wouldn’t it be just the ticket to bury bulbs in December and get to see them bloom in March, or maybe April?
She tells me this while I am huddled in my quilts, a stack of poetry beside me, medicinal aids surround the nest of contemplation I have built to see me through recovery from something doctors haven’t been able to diagnose. The scent of a tool shed comes to me, the way earth smells warm inside a cold December shed, her wood-handled aluminum hand shovel on a shelf next to empty clay petunia pots. If she in fact has a garden shed, I’ve never been inside, but no matter, I’m inside it now.
And I think of leaving this story right there with you. Imagining wood and soil in a shed, picturing her hands at work, waiting to see what color the blooms will be.
But there is a little more to her story because she didn’t plant all the bulbs. There were 42 bulbs and she only planted 30, leaving 12 in the paper bag. Christmas started up and she and my father got busy with the tree and the stockings. Later, when she went back to her bag of tulip bulbs, it was nowhere to be found. Gone, but not tossed out with the trash.
“Oh, hang on,” she says, “I need to go stir the chili.”
I switch my cellphone to my other ear and listen to her set the phone down. It’s a land line, the good one in the living room where you can hear better than on the cordless phone kept in the kitchen. I can almost count the steps from her brown sofa, across the blue carpet, around the corner to the smooth expanse of white linoleum, to reach the stainless steel pot of chili on her black stove. Stir, stir, taste, add a little salt.
And then I picture her coming back to me, around the kitchen corner, across the blue carpet to the sofa with a large oil painting of a white cat hanging above it. The phone crackles when she picks it up and she is laughing about the bulbs. There are so many places they could be. Green shafts sprouting through cracks, finding just enough light to reach for. Undaunted.
I offer to help look for the bag when I come home next, but she dismisses that with her sweeping hand. She’s looked in the obvious places and now it’s time to sit back and let the bulbs be. One day they’ll be discovered, she says. And when that happens, they will be in bloom.