I’m sick all night. I’ve picked up some bacteria and take it home with me, like picking up a stranger in a bar, a lizard-handed salesman in a hotel bar in Reno or Fort Worth maybe, and spend a night of groaning intimacy with the clammy dead-white orifice of the toilet. A dissipated night, against my nature. I crave sleep, but am reawakened every hour or so by the persistent stranger who has invaded my body and runs those wheedling fingers down my stomach literally ad nauseum, raising goosebumps.
I’m over being sick by morning, but can’t get myself back. It’s like waking blank, and realizing, first, that you’re badly hungover, and then, worse, that you don’t recognize the room. I want to be home, but I don’t know how to get there. And it’s going to take a long time even to sit up, with the room moving like that, in a big gray sideways spin (like being inside the barrel of a cement mixer). I lie down again, crushed by the enormity of having lost not just the night, but big well-loved old things: simple normality, and all of me.
In the afternoon the poppies are so hot, candent, their soul-bared color hurts my eyes. I can’t look at them. I can hardly even manage walking. I walk as if I were old, planning every step. The very air chafes my skin as I push against it.
But when I come back outside several hours later, having had iced ginger ale and Advil and slept until evening on my softest, twenty-year-old sheets, the sun is off the poppies and they’ve closed for the night, wing-like now, chaste, like so many butterflies lighted, poised at the possibility of flight. What sun is left comes obliquely over the gate, from the street beyond, like a kind of hush. The world is cool and serene and has accepted me back. I lift my hair off my still-sweaty neck, feeling the coolness like a grandmother’s passing kiss.
Against the weathered old fence is the iris that bloomed just yesterday, sponging up the last of the sun. It’s an iridescent pinkish lilac with a heart of buttery cinnamon-sugar, astonishingly perfect as a plate in an old Renaissance herbal, its colors mixed from beaten gold leaf, pigments, resins. Two blooms are open, with four yet to come. Perhaps lighter than varnish even, the sheen is of Roman glass, curving up into long graceful iris-shaped flasks maybe for perfume. There’s a slightly darker lip of stain around the ruffled outer edge of the limp petals like pooling watercolors or ink, washed across lightly in the middle, thicker where the color slows and stops, caught by the contour, by the hilling up of the translucent tissue.
I’ve thrown on Cherokee blue jeans with buttoned cargo pockets, my favorite gray sweater, the torn moccasins I garden in. I stand in the cool evening without aching, released from the earlier weight of the air, and water absolutely everything in the garden with the finest spray that’s in the nozzle until everything, every single leaf and bud and twig and airborne tendril, is hung with tiny drops of spray like seed pearls.