Suitably encouraged by Kurt’s kind comment to “Titanic” (April 15), I reflected that this is the time of year when hostas are starting to bloom—at least this year, though normal used to be July. As gardeners and non-gardeners know, hostas are… well, I tried to say it all in the poem below.
But have you
Caught, among small
Stars, his flute?
—Robert Francis, “Delicate the Toad”
The hosta, most dependable of plants
I know, when it comes to a bloom in hot
July, why is its praise so seldom said?
Why can daffodil and orchid not share
some turning of eye and head with this one
of quiet tones?
It is more than a crush
of color that a whole plant gives itself
up to bring into the world: its green fans
spotted or striped yellow or white have grace;
and a virtue of seeds beads its grave stalks.
I love its self-sufficiency: sand, clay,
loam, it knows what it needs, does not aspire.
It is no iris whose fringed shawl and hooded
privacy bloom and droop in one day: if
you travel a week you’ll miss just a greening,
a swelling, a slightness of added height,
as a child left home so discreetly grows
that you, returned, can think no time is gone
It unfolds so day-by-day, it
drinks the season’s calm, soaking in the shade
that is its bath.
Its spike becoming flowers
loves to tantalize, making an art of
premeditation, as the tight-rope walker
edges overhead step by held-breath step
toward a spotlight of applause.
off-white all the quiet weeks you watch their
getting ready, bring a purple surprise
gliding each night up the long raceme.
may call it stiff because it does not rise
high, sway, and set itself up for a tumble
of hollyhocks, or lean like tulips past
their peak, or snap at its knees in a breeze.
Never headstrong, it pays tribute to sky,
pointing by compromise in light’s direction,
half way from straightness to the open patch
whose blue is half the formula for green.
It must be tending always to its roots,
pacing itself. After its bloom is done,
it will not cry worn out, in need of rich
earth, staking, shelter from cold, the break-back
cares that rose and lily cannot forgo.
It can get along with plants of the wild,
no house in sight, under maples and spruce,
its breath turned low, setting a patient clock.
It does not diminish others but holds
to its own, keeps sprouts and brambles at bay,
casts too much darkness for Virginia creeper
to fumble around in its roots.
smoothly, wisely, each year gaining a modicum
but is no violet to send a host
against a lawn.
Its slowness is its strength:
when all the fancy pampered one-day bloomers,
pale, spindly-stalked, in need of pulling strings,
get out of town, it will remain oasis,
serenity, thought furled into itself.