The lover speaks in bundles of sentences but does not integrate these sentences on a higher level, into a work; his is a horizontal discourse: no transcendence, no deliverance, no novel (though a great deal of the fictive).”
–Roland Barthes, A Lover’s Discourse
Morning Glory; or, On the Pleasures of Not Coming Out
Trying to grow a morning glory on a windowsill, my father and I are unable to make it work. Even with the help of spring sun, the seed stays stuck in the soil. Then sunlight hardens the soil.
The book from my childhood was called Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert. I learned the names of flowers in those pages; I learned how to separate them by color. I love the blue flowers in particular, because I rarely ever saw them in real life. I would stare at the page of them for ages: a waterfall of delphinium, cotton candy hyacinth, tie-dye cornflowers. And the morning glories, which I learnt are little circles of sky with a white star in them, and small suns within those white stars. I have always wanted to own one.
My parents and I will never be able to talk about attraction. We explain the morning glory’s failure to grow in scientific terms: genetics, neglect, nitrogen. We do not talk about the possibility that the seed loves the soil, that it wants to stay there and never be seen.
I do not tell my parents about what I love, and then I do. Then we bury it in language: “it,” “that thing you told me,” “the important thing about you.”
Whenever my mother says she wants me to tell my brother, I tell her I know he already knows. Neither of us wants to say anything after that.
“All summer long we pick them and bring them home,” Ehlert writes from the point of view of a child who has just reaped a rainbow with their mother. When I read this as a child, looking at the bundle of shorn flowers roped together, I used to envy the possession of such a display. I wanted to tell someone how much I loved them. And the house’s silence would keep beautifully still.
My best friend’s mother used to grow mint leaves and give them to me. My favorite smell, it would always grow thin before I reached home. I do not know how to describe the aroma, except to say that unlike the mint of dentists and chewing gum, mint plant does not leave you overly clean. Yet it sticks to you all the same. The smell of mint has an afterlife.
The mint plant gets its name from Greek mythology, according to which the naiad Minthe lived in Hades’ underworld until she fell in love with him. His wife, growing jealous, turned Minthe into a plant; mint is the forbidden love of death and that beneath our feet. The Greeks used mint leaves often in their funeral rites, a futile attempt to bury decay.
Our friendship reminds me of the mint leaf because someone gave it to us. Our parents knew each other before we were born. They decided we would grow together. I do not know how to describe us except through this leaf we have in common.
We didn’t actually become friends until we found something common in us that our parents did not want us to have, which is to say our queerness. This is our own mint leaf held between her finger and mine. I have felt its fragrance my whole life.
Tripping on a root, the first thing I do is look up. I see blue and seek a plant so beyond us we have stopped thinking of it as a plant. No one ever knows who planted a tree. Like the leaves they give to us, they always seem to have fallen from the sky.
A small yellow flower in a pond near my house looks almost like a tree growing up into water. In this second life, the flower has a new grandeur. It reaches the same heights as the trees reflected next to it.
Before there were mirrors, there were reflections. When you come out as queer, you are supposed to come into your true identity, the reflection that was hiding or perhaps always present but never seen. It is through a reflection that Narcissus fell in love with his self.
The flower in the pond probably does not see itself as a tree.
The lake of the mirror has formed a cataract, and at its edges is beginning to corrode (Rodriguez 64).
The flower in the pond probably does not see itself at all. Does not want to, does not attempt to, does not need to.
At once a closet of privacy and an exhibition gallery. All four walls are mirrored (Rodriguez 64).
Reflections are rarely private like mirrors. Countless people have seen Narcissus turn into a flower. Additionally, reflections are never confined to oneself. The pond does not hesitate to show you with cloudy hair, ripples for wrinkles, a lily pad hat, and tree-branch-ridden teeth.
I am large, I contain multitudes (Whitman 103).
In looking for myself, I gather others’ words like flowers and leaves and pretend to see a tree.
Some weeds don’t have roots when you pull them out. It seems they shed them on their own. Some weeds you keep; consider dandelions. Over time, they show themselves to be not an easily removable yellow head but a white wisp of wishes.
In my house, a vase sprouts plastic flowers. These fake flowers feel eternal, but their deaths are no less real. First, their petals fall into the water. Stems slouch, colors change. I picture a landfill of flowers, and I can’t tell nature from plastic. The true difference for me is that before dying, real flowers set seeds. That, and real flowers have roots.
Society’s condemnation forced the homosexual to find his redemption outside nature (Rodriguez 60). The phrase “outside nature” makes it sound as if nature is home, and everywhere else is the unruly outdoors. Plastic is a disgraced material (Mythologies 194).
During the Pansy Craze of the early nineteen-thirties, drag queens, known as “pansy performers,” gave the flower a new life indoors. Plastic is a miraculous substance: a miracle is always a sudden conversion of nature (Mythologies193).
Flowers in nature have a vase we don’t see. This explains why they stay in one place just as plastic flowers do. Theirs is the most perfect vase, glass indistinguishable from air.
The plastic flower has no power to shatter its vase even though it is visible, physical, right there. Reading a poem about poppies—I speak because I am shattered (Glück 86)—I cannot tell who the “I” is: vase, flower, or person. They are not so distinct after all.
Re-reading the Morning Glory
When I say re-reading, I mean that I am reading the article before me for the first time. I learn that morning glories die the same day they bloom. They live only for the youthful part of the day. They turn toward the sun and, like most flowers, bask in being seen. Thinking about my childhood, I think about how much time I spent hiding and looking for myself. As I keep reading, I learn that some Ipomoea species of morning glories open in the middle of the night; they are called moonflowers. The eye of the sun is counterproductive to their growth. The article tells me that moonflowers are easy to grow and need little care, that they can even self-sow. The article categorizes them among the most beautiful of flowers with the sweetest of aromas and the most romantic of names. They are poisonous if eaten, and they have powers both hallucinogenic and medicinal. The article warns me to not fall under their spell.
- Barthes, Roland. A Lover’s Discourse. Translated by Richard Howard, Hill and Wang, 1978.
- Barthes, Roland. Mythologies. Translated by Richard Howard, Hill and Wang, 2012.
- Glück, Louise. The Wild Iris. Poem Hunter, 2004.
- Rodriguez, Richard. “Late Victorians.” Harper’s, 24 Sep. 1990, pp. 57-66.
- Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass. University of Iowa Press, 2009.