Paper Anniversary

Willow Oak
[Photo by sleepneko via Flickr]

A forgiving spring and now July’s heat. You can almost see
the grass growing. In the mornings, white-throated sparrows take turns
flying through the spray of lawn sprinklers up and down
the street. Our driveway bends around an ancient pin oak β€” you tell me
it is a willow oak, Quercus phellos, but I will keep calling it
what I have always heard it called. This is how names work:
they come about somehow and stay if they stay. We are still
unpacking, finding resting places for the belongings we brought
to this old house, the silverware and wedding china, odd pieces
of furniture, cartons of papers and books, the heaviest things
to move. It has been the season of discovering the yard’s plantings,
blooming in their time to speak what we’ll take as a welcome. The azaleas
announced themselves to us as pink or white, solving that mystery
before coloring the lawn with discarded flowers. You were happy for a week
when you discovered the peonies languishing and neglected
beside the one good section of fence on the property and could hardly wait
until their lavish blooms shamelessly came open. The hydrangeas, you say,
have their color decided for them by the soil’s subtle chemistry.
You brought in panicles of blossoms mostly the tint of a day-sky’s blue
in a cooler season, but also shaded with tincture of iodine and a wash of rust
to complicate the hue. All of this is news to me. Every flower
has at least two names. Butterfly bush, summer lilac, something in Latin
I would have to look up. Since we moved in, you have been arranging
cut flowers from the yard in what vases we have, the wide-mouth jar
I found in the crawl space, a beaded white stem vase handed down
from somebody’s grandmother, the blue bottle vase I paid a few dollars for
at a secondhand shop, purple iris against the parchment-colored walls, a spray
of narcissus on the dresser. Le Corbusier said, β€œThe plan proceeds from within
to without; the exterior is the result of an interior.” Outside, on this narrow city lot
a sense of order arises as I take up the chain saw and clear away a decade’s worth
of mimosa volunteers and wild cherry trees. I can see the plan that someone laid out
before us, hollies in a line below the dining room window, the bulbs arrayed
around the house’s corner and in a long bed beside the garage, a declivity in the lawn
where a flowering tree must have stood. In early summer a single surprise lily
emerged two feet tall overnight with a trumpet flower. We will make our revisions.
I prune the ivy and pull it from where it has climbed the window screens.
The massive oak, seventy years old, planted the year the house went up,
has endured as long as anything on this street. We should stop worrying
what to call things. Something will come to us, a phrase that holds
a like meaning for you as it does for me. I’ve found the place where the soul goes
when it is set loose from the body. I do not know the word for it.

Editors' Note

“Paper Anniversary” was originally published in Southwest Review 89:4 (2004) and then in the collection Paper Anniversary (U of Pittsburgh Press, 2010). It is reprinted here with the author’s permission.

Cite
Bobby C. Rogers, “Paper Anniversary,” Places Journal, July 2011. Accessed 30 Jul 2015. <>

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