The Meanest Flower

The Meanest Flower

by Mimi Khalvati

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781857548686
Publisher: Carcanet Press, Limited
Publication date: 08/01/2007
Pages: 96
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Mimi Khalvati is a visiting lecturer at Goldsmiths College. She is the author of The Chine, In White Ink, and Mirrorwork.

Read an Excerpt

The Meanest Flower


By Mimi Khalvati

Carcanet Press Ltd

Copyright © 2007 Mimi Khalvati
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84777-795-9



CHAPTER 1

The Meanest Flower


    The Meanest Flower


    i

    April opens the year with the first vowel,
    opens it this year for my sixtieth.
    Truth to tell, I'm ashamed what a child I am,
    still so ignorant, so immune to facts.

    There's nothing I love more than childhood, childhood
    in viyella, scarved in a white babushka,
    frowning and impenetrable. Childhood,
    swing your little bandy legs, take no notice

    of worldliness. Courtiers mass around you –
    old women all. This is your fat kingdom. The world
    has given you rosebuds, painted on your headboard.

    Measure the space between, a finger-span,
    an open hand among roses, tip to tip,
    a walking hand between them. None is open.


    ii

    Cup your face as the sepals cup the flower.
    Squarely perched, on the last ridge of a ploughed field,
    burn your knuckles into your cheeks to leave
    two rosy welts, just as your elbows leave

    two round red roses on your knees through gingham.
    How pale the corn is, how black your eyes, white
    the whites of them. This is a gesture of safety,
    of happiness. This is a way of sitting

    your body will remember: every time
    you lean forward into the heart of chatter,
    feeling the space behind your back, the furrow

    where the cushions are, on your right, your mother,
    on your left, your daughter; feeling your fists
    push up your cheeks, your thighs, like a man's, wide open.


    iii

    The nursery chair is pink and yellow, the table
    is pink and yellow, the bed, the walls, the curtains.
    The fascia, a child's hand-breadth, is guava pink,
    glossy and lickable. It forms a band

    like the equator round the table. The equator
    runs down the chair-arm under your arm, the equator
    is also vertical. The yellow's not yellow
    but cream, buttery, there's too much of it

    for hands as small as yours, arms as short,
    to encompass. Let tables not defeat me,
    surfaces I can't keep clean, tracts of yellow

    that isn't yellow but something in between
    mother and me be assimilable.
    Colours keep the line to memory open.


    iv

    Here where they're head-high, as tall as you, will do.
    This is the garden in the garden. Here
    where they're wild and thin and scraggy but profuse
    such as those ones there, these ones here, no one

    looking, no one within a mile, you'll find
    flowers to pick and to press but before their death
    at your hands, such small deaths they make of death
    a nonsense and so many who would notice?

    with the best ones, flat ones, left till last, take time
    to take in the garden, the distance from the paths,
    the steps and the terrace crunching underfoot.

    Soon you'll hear a whistle. The garden is timeless.
    Time is in the refuse, recent, delinquent.
    Go as you came, leaving it out in the open.


    v

    As if they were family, flowers surround you.
    As if they were a story-book, they speak.
    They speak through eyes and strange configurations
    on their faces, markings on petals, whiskers,

    mouth-holes and pointed teeth. They are related
    to wind. Wind is a kind of godfather, high up
    in the branches. They're willing you to listen
    to them, not him. Even now you're too old

    though too young in reality for most things –
    to understand their language. Once, you could.
    You can feel the burn in the back of your mind,

    as you hold their gaze, where the meanings are,
    too far away to reach. What creature is it
    that can stand its ground, keep its mind so open?


    vi

    There are stars to accompany you by day.
    After you've gone to bed, they fall to earth
    like dew but, to accommodate that dew,
    presumably fall first. You've seen the fluff

    from your blanket, a blue cloud in the air;
    hooded in your cloak with its scarlet lining,
    walking between the pine trees late at night
    seen stardust so fine you took it for granted

    or took it for vapour, mist, a kind of mistake –
    the way a sleeve rubs chalk along the blackboard
    and the numbers smudge, x's disappear.

    Well then – you've only to turn a midnight sky
    upside down to show, when they close above,
    the stars below of chickweed, speedwell, open.


    vii

    The pink primrose flower's an aberration,
    a nail discoloured, blood clot on a yolk,
    a cuckoo in the nest. How did it get there?
    You'd like to pull it out, out from the clump,

    beak it like a worm. This time it's an odd one
    but sometimes the whole clump goes red as if
    some shadow had passed over and instead of
    letting it pass, the blooms had taken on

    the stain themselves. The yellow ones are true
    registers of light and shade but the pink ones,
    no matter how bright the sunshine, far away

    an overhanging hedge, can never change.
    They carry the shade inside them, their veins are blue
    and your blood runs cold to see they too can open.


    viii

    Because you are a child, the earth's dimensions,
    of which you know so little, rise to greet you.
    Walls, albeit with peepholes into orchards
    long abandoned, may be too high to scale

    but who would want to scale them when scale itself
    and a wall risen up like earth at eye-level
    have appointed you like Gulliver to dwarf
    the already miniature: ivy-leaved toadflax

    mimicking waterfalls, curtaining caves?
    The same insect cities you'd see in grass
    you now see in stone without bending, stooping,

    and your spine is a wall itself. For this,
    you are thankful: earth's horizontal shelves
    standing, like a glass museum case, open.


    ix

    These are the things you have made or have yet to make:
    six knitted egg-cosies, a sailboat in cross-stitch,
    the coronation coach replete with its team
    of horses painstakingly cut out and glued,

    an apron, a book of miserably pressed flowers,
    countless milk-bottle-top pompoms, embroidered
    handkerchiefs and one darned for Janet Blue,
    all of them neatly and the last passionately.

    But materials are intractable
    whereas spelling, grammar, punctuation,
    bend to the curve of your thought and your thought,

    brighter than any needle, magnetised
    to their rule, kneels to their rule: a knight errant,
    lifting his visor as the Queen's casements open.


    x

    You're not the centre of the universe
    nor do you wish to be. The very thought
    fuels your fear of fire, of Joan of Arc
    terrifyingly bald, burnt at the stake.

    You'd prefer death by invisibility
    and diminution, death by camouflage
    in florals. You don't think of dying, however,
    hovering on the edge of being noticed,

    organdie sleeves perked like butterfly wings,
    your antennae alert. In later life
    you will home in on fields of tiny flowers,

    an infant's fading kaftan pinned to the wall,
    Annette in an orange shawl, linings, borders,
    bindings and trims, each dot, each floweret open.


    xi

    There was always that familiar ache:
    finding your own spot under the trees to read,
    the heart always gravitating to love,
    still smarting from the last humiliation.

    There was coconut ice in pink and white,
    between sugar and spice, time to apportion.
    You were always fair. When it came to tears,
    however, you were mean, a veritable

    Scrooge, a Shylock crying out for his jewels
    while all the monkeys in the wilderness
    scattered and scrambled, gesticulating wildly,

    until the savannah, the whole plain, was bare.
    What were the thoughts that lay too deep for tears?
    Oh monkey-child, it's time to lay them open.


    xii

    I think of Wordsworth's hermit in the woods,
    that shrivelling in the heart that leads one deep
    into solitude, the longing for it,
    as if life were not already too lonely

    and a grandchild learning to shred a catkin,
    as you once did, no more to be cherished
    than her catkin stems. I am entrusted with them:
    in one hand, balled, a nest of rusted tails,

    in the other, stripped stalks I'll gratefully
    chuck from the train. Poetry's on the run.
    From exhaustion, the inability

    to imagine a larger world and one
    too sick to be hurt into words. Be kind,
    sweet April, you with your mouth, first vowel, open.


    Ghazal: It's Heartache

    When you wake to jitters every day, it's heartache.
    Ignore it, explore it, either way it's heartache.

    Youth's a map you can never refold,
    from Yokohama to Hudson Bay, it's heartache.

    Follow the piper, lost on the road,
    whistle the tune that led him astray: it's heartache.

    Stop at the roadside, name each flower,
    the loveliness that will always stay: it's heartache.

    Why do nightingales sing in the dark?
    Ask the radif, it will only say 'it's heartache'.

    Let khalvati, 'a quiet retreat',
    close my ghazal and heal as it may its heartache.


    Ghazal: Lilies of the Valley

    Everywhere we walked we saw lilies of the valley.
    Every time we stopped were more lilies of the valley.

    Umbrellas passed – fathers, sons,
    holding out a hand that bore lilies of the valley.

    Every citizen of France
    bearing through his own front door lilies of the valley.

    But we were out of the know,
    though reluctant to ignore lilies of the valley.

    Our first May Day in Paris,
    knowing nothing of folklore lilies of the valley.

    Of Jenny Cook and Chabrol's
    buttonhole the night he wore lilies of the valley.

    He who sang Viens poupoule, viens!
    and started the fashion for lilies of the valley.

    How fashion then conferred, free
    on les ouvriers at Dior, lilies of the valley.

    Mais nous, sacré bleu, who knew
    of charmed muguets des bois or lilies of the
    valley?

    And though I wore the perfume
    I have always worn before – lilies of the valley

    – Diorissimo that is,
    no one whispered, 'Meem, j'adore lilies of the valley'.

    No one made false promises.
And if France did, who blames poor lilies of the valley?


    Ghazal: The Candles of the Chesnit Trees

    I pictured them in the dark at night –
        the candles of the chestnut trees.
    Their name alone made them self-ignite –
        the candles of the chestnut trees.

    I pictured them in the pouring rain
    as they really are, pink-tinged on white –
        the candles of the chestnut trees.

    How many there are and each the same!
    same shape and colour, angle, height –
        the candles of the chestnut trees.

    Seen from below, most unseen,
    they throw no shadow, cast no light –
        the candles of the chestnut trees.

    I saw how distance matters more
    than nearness, clearness, to see upright
        the candles of the chestnut trees.

    Inspired by 'Christ the apple tree',
    I looked for a figure to recite
        the candles of the chestnut trees.

    Lacking faith, I could do no more
    than find a refrain to underwrite
        the candles of the chestnut trees.

    As May drew on, the more I saw,
    the more they lost that first delight –
        the candles of the chestnut trees.

    I've searched for sameness all my life
    but Mimi, nothing's the same despite
        the candles of the chestnut trees.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Meanest Flower by Mimi Khalvati. Copyright © 2007 Mimi Khalvati. Excerpted by permission of Carcanet Press Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Contents

Title Page,
Dedication,
Acknowledgements,
I The Meanest Flower,
The Meanest Flower,
Ghazal: It's Heartache,
Ghazal: Lilies of the Valley,
Ghazal: The Candles of the Chestnut Trees,
Ghazal (after Hafez),
Ghazal: To Hold Me,
Ghazal: Of Ghazals,
II The Mediterranean of the Mind,
The Mediterranean of the Mind,
The Middle Tone,
Al Fresco,
Scorpion-grass,
Water Blinks,
The Valley,
Overblown Roses,
Come Close,
Soapstone Creek,
Soapstone Retreat,
On a Line from Forough Farrokhzad,
III Impending Whiteness,
Impending Whiteness,
Amy's Horse,
The Year of the Dish,
Motherhood,
The Robin and the Eggcup,
Song for Springfield Park,
On Lines from Paul Gauguin,
Magpies,
Ghazal: The Servant,
Ghazal: The Children,
Ghazal: My Son,
Signal,
Sundays,
Tintinnabuli,
Notes and Dedications,
About the Author,
Also by Mimi Khalvati from Carcanet Press,
Copyright,

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