Summer Chronicles 2019 #2: Fried Egg Plants and Sage

by on July 1, 2019 · 1 comment

in Under the Perfect Sun

By Jim Miller

The anarchy of my unkempt yard delights me.  After a series of unseasonably late rainstorms, it is an unruly jungle of desert sage, fried egg plants, and delicate little yellow flowers I can’t quite identify.  Usually by this time of year the grass is half dead and the gardeners have brutally hacked down the foliage out front, leaving nothing but stubs to grow back. But fortunately, the crew the property manager hired has been blessedly restrained and no one is complaining.

Sitting on the porch on a sunny day, the fried egg poppies are a wonder to behold.  Most of the year their green stalks lie barren until late May when the buds appear, and, if there are good rains like this year, the bloom is abundant with large white flowers exploding atop the tall green stalks, a brilliant yellow pistil—a miracle at the center.

By the front gate, intermingling with the fried egg plants, is an overgrown desert sage with intricate purple flowers.  Its sweet, earthy smell, with hints of pine and pepper, fills the air as bees dance between blooms and a neighborhood cat slyly tucks herself into a cozy spot amidst the green jungle.

At night sometimes we get shy possums looking for refuge, but at the height of day, the surprise comes from a Monarch butterfly floating over the tops of the flowers, flaunting its beautiful black and orange wings.  Like Zhuangzi I am conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, not sure if I am dreaming or the butterfly is dreaming of me.

When we are inside our house, we see passersby stopping to marvel at the flowers or snap off a piece of sage.  Couples hold hands and point, whole families wave to us sitting on our couch, packs of firefighters with coffee coming back to the station on the corner sneak furtive glances as they sip at their cups.

An old woman stops and gently pulls the sage toward her face, slowly taking in the scent as if praying.

A small boy with his father looks up and says “Wow!” so loudly I hear him from our upstairs bedroom.

What is it about our simple messy garden that stops people in their tracks?  Is it the beauty of this little bit of nature in the midst of the urban, the contrast of dirty concrete and litter with the lush, delicate green crowned with colorful flowers?

Or perhaps it is that these absurdly beautiful poppies only bloom once a year, for a very short time, and remind us both of the possibility of the extraordinary occurring in our all-too-ordinary lives and the transient nature of everything worth loving.

*****

In the summer of 1967, the great Brazilian writer, Clarice Lispector, began a seven-year stint as a writer for Jornal de Brasil (The Brazilian News) not as a reporter but as a writer of “chronicles,” a genre peculiar to Brazil.  As Giovanni Pontiero puts it in the preface to Selected Chrônicas, a chronicle, “allows poets and writers to address a wider readership on a vast range of topics and themes.  The general tone is one of greater freedom and intimacy than one finds in comparable articles or columns in the European or U.S. Press.”

What Lispector left us with is an eccentric collection of “aphorisms, diary entries, reminiscences, travel notes, interviews, serialized stories, essays, loosely defined as chronicles.”  As a novelist, Pontiero tells us, Lispector was anxious about her relationship with the genre, apprehensive of writing too much and too often, of, as she put it, “contaminating the word.”  It was a genre alien to her introspective nature and one that challenged her to adapt.

More than forty years later, in Southern California—in San Diego no less—I look to Lispector with sufficient humility and irony from my place on the far margins of literary history with three novels and a few other books largely set in our minor league corner of the universe.  Along with this weekly column, it’s not much compared to the gravitas of someone like Lispector. So, as Allen Ginsberg once said of Whitman, “I touch your book and feel absurd.”

Nonetheless the urge to narrate persists. Along with Lispector, I am cursed with it–for better or worse. So, for a few lazy weeks of summer I will, as I have for a few years now, try my hand at the form.

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Tony D Muir Avenue Ale July 11, 2019 at 12:40 pm

We all look forward to spring when we can head out to the desert and view the wildflowers, but I like how you point out we have these wonders yearround. Especially with our unique OB terroir. Nice job, Jim.

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