I don’t grow peonies, although I have always been madly in love with them. I don’t get the right sun. But, just now, peonies are blooming all over my northern Virginia neighborhood, and I stop at every neighbor’s yard and do homage.
Do you grow peonies?
I used to go most Sundays to the Dupont Circle farmers’ market and there was a man there who sold, at this time of year, peonies. He told me once that he had a client down in North Carolina who paid him to ship peonies to her, tightly budded, and that she would then sketch them as they opened.
Sometimes, when my own life is too mad with briefs needing editing, and cases needing reading, and people who want attention, and beds that need weeding, and napkins that need ironing, and Goddesses and Gods who want attention, and a landbase that demands relationship — sometimes, in those moments, I self-comfort by thinking of that woman, alone, contained, in quiet, opening the box of peonies, putting them in a vase, getting out thick paper, and wood-lined carbon pencils, and a glass of wine, and sketching the Virginia peonies as they open, scent the air, and drop their petals on the polished wood of her Charleston (as it is in my dreams) piano.
She keeps me sane, that woman.
I would buy all the peonies that man would sell me and put them in my office, my bedroom, at a roadside shrine.
Here’s Mary Oliver’s poem:
This morning the green fists of the peonies are getting ready
to break my heart
as the sun rises,
as the sun strokes them with his old, buttery fingers
and they open —
pools of lace,
white and pink —
and all day the black ants climb over them,
boring their deep and mysterious holes
into the curls,
craving the sweet sap,
taking it away
to their dark, underground cities —
and all day
under the shifty wind,
as in a dance to the great wedding,
the flowers bend their bright bodies,
and tip their fragrance to the air,
their red stems holding
all that dampness and recklessness
gladly and lightly,
and there it is again —
beauty the brave, the exemplary,
Do you love this world?
Do you cherish your humble and silky life?
Do you adore the green grass, with its terror beneath?
Do you also hurry, half-dressed and barefoot, into the garden,
and exclaiming of their dearness,
fill your arms with the white and pink flowers,
with their honeyed heaviness, their lush trembling,
to be wild and perfect for a moment, before they are
Picture found here.