I can’t explain my fascination with irises. My paternal grandmother kept them, but I have few reliable memories of her. They are Tennessee’s state flower, but I never planted them in Tennessee’s soil. Maybe my Virginia house and yard simply called for irises, as some metaphors call for poetry. Maybe my first iris bulbs, prized gifts in a brown paper bag, arrived when they decided I was ready.
Years ago, I preened over blooms, then gaped in awe as sturdy green fans survived hurricanes and snowstorms. I fumed through fall’s brutal business of separating stubborn roots and bulbs, then forgave my unruly brood when spring’s spectacular crop nodded thanks for my labor.
Soon they’ll need separating again. The work is tedious and itchy, fraught with allergy perils. I scratch and sneeze while my irises fight back with the only weapons they possess, an encamped army of spiders and mosquitoes, crickets and ants. Maybe there will be another praying mantis, like the one that leapt into the cuff of my glove last time.
I’m still fascinated, if a bit overwhelmed by the magnitude of what grew out of that brown paper bag.
I wrote parts of this piece several years ago. It was a starting place for what later became one of my favorite poems.