Finding green in the city. Erica Violet Lee and Jenn Harper by sweetmoon photography

“How to grow wildflowers”

make room in the mouth for
grasses grasses grasses

— Layli Long Soldier, Whereas

Finding green in the city. Erica Violet Lee and Jenn Harper by sweetmoon photography

Finding green in the city, by Sweetmoon Photography.

She keeps bright yellow flowers in the window for two reasons: to remind herself which apartment unit is hers (the third floor, second from the left on the right side of the building), and to remind her this place is home, no matter what. If she had enough money, she might think about it, but she wouldn’t move away. That is what makes it a real home, she imagines.

She keeps yellow flowers in the window so others can see them too, while walking down 20th street. Against the blue of night, the vase appears to glow, lit from behind by a small table lamp with orange tinted-bulb. I see them, but I don’t know one flower from another, a carnation from a hydrangea.

I know that these flowers are yellow, and I know that this makes me feel joy. This joy, a reminder that some days, we wish for no different than what we have in front of us. The soil we hold in our hands, the hands we hold in ours, the rocks stuck in our shoes, caught in the warm summer rain in a jean jacket: this is what I know of the land. Not the scientific names of flowers, but the way they make me feel. This is a reminder that many days we want for no more.

But some days, this joy is overwhelmed by a violent longing. A rumbling tummy. An empty fridge. The heartbreak of broken relationships. A close encounter with a cop. The pains of the morning, the pains of always mourning, the pain of growing old too fast.

Someone planted wild grasses and wildflowers under the cement in our neighbourhood, just before it was poured over everything and everyone that once grew here. Just like they knew it was coming. Just like they anticipated us, and knew they had to plant before the floods. The grasses have begun to burst through the attempted endurance of the gray slate. In the extremes of the northern prairie climate, or the thick moisture of the boreal, concrete is the least resilient thing around here.

The mayor has issued a state of emergency because of the crumbling state of the roads. The rest of the country doesn’t notice because this is saskatchewan.

How many poems about roses since 2Pac? [1]
How many poems about bursting through a surface meant to suffocate all life?
How many more?

I want to read them all. I want to be a rose, and a thorn, and the rusty nail that makes the emperor howl. [2]

Here, you emerge as king of the Sunflowers, a being radiant, a stunning space-taker, land-reclaimer. I cannot imagine a man so unafraid of wild grasses, a soft tummy, a wide sky. Not a man who simply wears flowers, but a man who is a whole garden, someone who only bows to the Moon and to her; her, the embodiment of wonder, giving away her pristine petals like gifts to this world, like the summer will never end.

“bow to nothing and no one”, the commandment goes, but at our best, we do. At our best we all do.

I hold an empty seed packet in my hand. On the back, instructions:

“How to Grow Wildflowers”.

The thing about wildflowers and wild grasses is that they just grow without permission, without ideal circumstances. This is what I will tell young people in my life who ask me

“How Do I Know if It’s Real Love?”

I will tell them about leaving flowers in the window as love,
of men who nearly made lovers of death
trying to lasso the moon
when they could’ve simply bowed.

I will tell them this, and they will know it is not the whole story, because creation stories take years to tell.

and as their structures fall
 they still try to tell us  that love is not all

that love is not all

but I would not trade these grasses, those yellow flowers for all the universities, mansions, or presidencies in the world.

while back in the city, we proceed to move with the beat. move to the sounds of the cracking concrete.

This poem is dedicated to Mary Nordick, my first English teacher at the University of Saskatchewan. Dr. Nordick introduced me to the work of Edna St. Vincent Millay, among others.

The repeated line at the end of this poem, “love is not all”, is from a 1931 poem of the same name by St. Vincent Millay.

[1] 2Pac, “The Rose That Grew From Concrete”. (2000)

[2] Jose Olivarez, “Note: The Rose That Grows from Concrete” in Citizen Illegal (2018).