“Gardenias” by Charlene Fix

Charlene Fix

for Billy Holiday, as all gardenias must forever be

When a flower visits you three times in three days,
a flower you have met before but hardly remember,
you have to consider the synchronicity,
that this might be the Universe yoo-hooing to you
in a form involuted and sexy and coded and perfumey,
though there’s always the possibility you can touch
and smell and pore over such a thing for weeks and not get it:
this is how people go mad, this may be the Universe toying with you.

One day I’m ironing, a housewifely thing to do, though most
of the clothes in the basket are mine, and watching an old sitcom
with prejudices manifested by the utter absence of the richly hued;
they’re simply not there, nowhere, like Jews suddenly suitcased
and on their way to vacations in hell, a silence reminiscent also
of the meowing of our old cat Ribby who would beg to come in
through the beveled glass, her mouth open in a plaint we couldn’t hear.
So I’m ironing and it seems Wally wants to buy his mercenary date
a gardenia, but his dad says no, though the interesting thing is
the dad changes his mind and this is hopeful: at first he’s adamant,
self-righteous, yet he changes his mind when the dressed-up-at-home
wife shows him a squooshed gardenia in a thick book from a date long ago,
ho hum, a real splurge, and he is about to call the fellow who brought it
a fool when he realizes he was him.

Then the next day I’m minding my own business, flipping
magazine pages when suddenly photos of fancy white gardenias
pounce upon me in a variety of shapes, for they have adapted
where they grew, and I’d say more but I threw out the magazine,
even though normally I keep such stuff around forever, but who
knew I was going to try to comprehend what the Universe
was telling me via gardenias, go figure.

And if you do, call me so I can lend this coherence,
having tossed the magazine one day before the third encounter,
when I was watching A Day at the Races for the umpteenth time
because those guys were on to something, and in one scene
Groucho has a big blonde up in his room at the sanitarium
where he is posing as a people doctor but is really
a veterinarian so as to placate and woo the hypochondriac
rich lady who can’t tell the difference between physical
and mental suffering, as most of us can’t, and Groucho
keeps saying thank you in a funny way to the blonde broad—
now there’s a word! Right out of the thirties, such a ring,
and by the way, did you ever notice how many synonyms
there are for women but hardly any for men? But never mind,
that’s a digression, let’s drop it, even though this is all digressions,
which, I hope, are getting us closer to solving the mystery of gardenias,
why they called to me three days running, a flower I never
paid much mind and probably won’t again.
So there’s Groucho offering the blonde dame a gardenia,
but, whoops, it’s not a gardenia but some cheap clownish peony,
and what does he care, he knows this is just a fling,
though thank goodness for the sanitarium and Margaret Dumont
that his brothers aren’t buying it and wallpaper over the blonde.

Now you might think that’s the end of it. I have told you
three loping sagas of gardenias. But I just remembered
a fourth and perhaps the sweetest of all: Jungle Gardenia,
my favorite perfume when I was a teenager and knew
simply nothing, and had a bottle of Shalimar, much classier,
more expensive, but one day my buddy Barb knocked me out
with the scent she had on, and I ran right to the drug store
to buy some, and it was heady and exotic and musky and cheap,
and in truth I preferred it. So some days I’d be classy
and wear Shalimar, but other days I’d be slutty in my dreams
and wear Jungle Gardenia, with my stockings, pumps,
and straight skirt, all girdled in, sweatered but without
the requisite big breasts, though inside I was all pink and glowing,
and gardenia-scented I would lean breathless on a locker
in a noisy, slushy (it snowed a lot in Cleveland) hall.

from Rattle #24, Winter 2005

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