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Not Even My Own

ISSUE:  Spring 2017

Photograph by Jeff Sharlet

I thought they were wild but I’m told irises rarely are. Planted; invasive; European, mostly, or Asian. But there are natives, too. These, with their ribbed yellow tongues, resemble an iris called the wild flag, which grows from Nova Scotia to Sitka. How might it have come to this small valley? First a bulb, then a garden, then flowers, planted; now flowers, wild. Escapees or refugees, invaders or simply the left behind.

Every foot of land along this road has been cultivated at some point or another during the past 220 years, and maybe much longer. Crops or sheep or swine, or just a pretty field. Maybe before the beavers who turned the field for a time into a swamp, before the beavers were hunted and the swamp became again a field—maybe before the swamp but after the wild, this was a garden. We could sift the soil. Search for a shard, a shell casing. Maybe bird bones, preserved by the still-swampy ground, relics of a funeral conducted by a child, like that of the goldfinch my daughter recently buried beneath our lilacs. To find out I’d have to uproot these purple strangers, and there’s a mist slipping in from the trees. And because I’ve been memorizing Yeats’s “The Stolen Child” so I can sing it at night with my daughter, who has made a piece of the poem her own—“Come away, O human child! / To the waters and the wild”—because I’ve been preserving these words as well, I imagine the mist speaks: “This isn’t your field, these aren’t your flowers.” I approach the mist, I try to step within. It says, “I’m not your mist.” And: “I’m not even my own.” Nothing is. I crouch to pick an iris. For my daughter. But then the mist swells like a whale breaching and disagrees. Field, swamp, garden, sheep and beavers and flowers, people who plant, people who wade through ticks and tall grass as the evening earth exhales. The mist moves. Let the irises be, it says. Pretend that they’re wild. Forget where they came from.

These dispatches are from #VQRTrueStory, our social-media experiment in nonfiction, which you can follow by visiting us on Instagram: @vqreview.


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Gail Jones's picture
Gail Jones · 6 years ago

Lovely story. I could smell the iris, my favorite flower.


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