By: Chloe Margherita
The memory of the flower comes in like a dream. I am young and living in California, probably three or four. Moving to New Jersey not long after, it is another fifteen years before I see them again. At this return I was living at a monastery with green houses and a garden and poppies, I realize, dotting the edges of a squash patch where the grass grows tall. A skilled scribe of the California landscape, John Steinbeck catalogs its spring terrain, lupins, “mixed with…splashes of California poppies,” calling them “not orange, not gold, but if pure gold were liquid and could raise a cream, that golden cream might be like the color of the poppies.” There are certain phrases that act like a leitmotif or refrain in life, a shard that bears repeating.
I remember being surprised and pleased to find poppies again after being away from them for so long. Their petals felt the same between my fingers: unbearably soft and easy to bruise, like a piece of human skin stretched thin enough to break. Last week, I tried to take a poppy with me as I passed a bush on my walk, but when I plucked it from its stem, the petals fluttered off like the slightest excuse. I let the rest of the flower fall from my hand.
In Italy they have poppies too, but their petals are more vermilion in hue, called the “Tuscan Poppy,” in contrast with the gold-cream color of the West Coast variety. You could see these red poppies on the dirt roads lining the hills on the edges of town where I stayed, as well as sprouting their thin, weak stalks in clumps between railroad tracks. I tried to take a picture of them as I passed, but we were moving too fast and their brilliant color blurred to an unrecognizable haze. In my mind, they are just small dots, scattered behind me as the train picks up speed.
In the last song on their self-titled 2016 album, Horse Jumper of Love singer, Dimitri Giannopoulous, refers to an amorous other as “a pretty orange peeler.” He rests his head in her lap while she gently exhorts him not to be so hard on yourself / at least not tonight please. Perhaps they had planned something special and she was in a good mood. Perhaps he can’t help it. Nonetheless, he thinks of her as a place, as a home, while noting the ephemerality of this shared place, holding onto [her] words like candlelight. When the wax has all slumped and melted on the candelabra, onto the table below, the flame will die. It would be illogical, however, to say it didn’t cast light, didn’t burn.
His second mention of the color paints a different scene. A selfless man pulls out Giannopoulous’s wisdom teeth to mix in the soil used to plant orange trees. The fruit was rotten, it turns out, but the dirt was expensive, he adds, alchemy of comfort and defeat. Despite the valuable resources spent in the name of spoiled harvest, he can mourn his lost fruit without blame. It is always sad when we put a lot of—our time, our resources, our effort—into something that fails. But what if we only spent our resources on what we knew with certainty would work out? For the time being, I am not interested in the quality or value or the harvested fruit. I am interested in the trying.
Lately, I have been making weekly dates with myself, driving out to the edge of town to watch the sun set. I learned from a cursory internet search that the multi-colored display conjured when the sun approaches the horizon is due to an effect called “scattering.” The color that hits our eye when we look at the sky is determined by the size of the particle. The ones with the shorter wavelengths give us violet and blue colors, which the molecules in the air scatter much more during the day, as they are smaller, easier to enter. The sun’s light can pass through more air when it is lower in the sky, however, allowing for molecules with longer wavelengths to meet our sight. Red has the longest wavelength, though orange, the natural second, is the color I have seen the most at these fragile burstings, these ends of the day and beginnings of something else. As the dark night swallows these warm bursts, we can watch the black become pricked with stars. We can go inside, also. We can rest. Either way, I can drive out again tomorrow and watch the light scatter into longer colors, and though it will not be the same pattern or shade as the one the day before, we still call it a sunset. We can still call it changed.
Persimmons are a nowhere fruit. I never even touched one until moving back to the West coast for college and my housemate brought home one of each kind. While one gets soft, like pudding, as it ripens, she explained, the other only softens if it’s rotten. I had no way of approaching this bright foreign fruit, so I didn’t. It wasn’t until a few years later when I lived in a place filled with fruit trees that I put the yellow-red fruit in my mouth. This tree sprouted the firm variety, which, though it could be underripe, a fact we found when a bite sucked the spit out of our mouths—a bit more exciting, at least, than their ripened state. Their ideal taste is still a one-note sweetness, no sourness or marked flavor to stimulate the palate. Still pretty to the eye, but disappointing up close.
About a month ago I saw the tree again. Working in the monastery kitchen, I went outside to take out the compost, coming right up against the vision of the low, wide tree. Amongst the dull green leaves as long as my hand were these bright orange jewels. There had been a sheet of frost not yet dissolved that covered the fruits in a matte sheen. It was the color maybe, or the weird quotidian memories I kept close to the surface, that lent me an energy passing between my limbs and the tree. It struck me as important that I be aware and alive for this, and not just this particular instant. The staredown between myself and the tree felt like a hologram, like how you split one in half and you don’t get an image cut in two but the same image, smaller, but double. All other moments, their energy and essence, seemed contained and justified in this meeting. There was someone else at the monastery I wanted to share this moment with, not in words, but somehow touch our fingers together and share this warm golden flow and let him see for himself the taste of this aliveness. It was a silent retreat however, and touching was definitely not allowed, and he was somewhere on the other edge of the property.
There are many theories about time and space that claim neither don’t matter that much and if I can have faith in that, then maybe nothing was lost at all.
Genetically, red hair is caused by a blockage or inactivation. Normally functioned, melanocytes, or the cells responsible for hair color, produce eumelanin, the pigment that leads to darker hair and eyes. If however, the Mc1R gene receptor is somehow not activated, pheomelanin, responsible for red hair, is produced instead. While the latin suffix for “eumelanin” means “good” or “normal,” “pheo” means “dusky, grey or dun.” I am tempted to create a binary between good and grey but resist this flattening.
Suspicion towards those with red hair is well documented through Western history. The Greeks believed that those born with red hair would turn into vampires after death. Aristotle called them “emotionally unhousebroken.” Those persecuting heathens during the Spanish Inquisition considered the red-haired to have stolen flames from hell, and thus, fittingly, were sentenced to being burned alive as a witch. A Russian proverb declares “There was never a saint with red hair.” Walking around the packed corners of a basement antique store, I showed a photo of my ex to a friend. “He has red hair!” she exclaimed. “That explains it.”
Though I found this response gratifying on some level, it also differed greatly from my first impressions. When I first saw him, leaning over a silver bowl in the monastery kitchen, the first thing I noticed was his hair. He keeps it chin-length and had tied it up while he was carefully drying a large silver bowl. I, visiting after many months away, was surrounded by people I knew and plenty of other strangers but it was him I introduced myself to, asked after. It was like a flaming arrow pointing me in unending direction towards him. Despite reasons for the contrary this hot momentum existed in me for the entirety of our relationship. It was exhausting, agonizing at times. It brought me much pain. But I know I would have regretted it if I didn’t follow. Despite the bruisedness in the aftermath, the pain and loss, I would call this sense of inevitability a power, a force. Despite the hurt, I submitted to it, I enacted this deep longing. Am I justifying mistakes, I wonder. I go on to the next thought.
Chloe Margherita is a poet, artist and astrologer living in Portland, Oregon. You can find her at chloe-margherita.com