Treatise on Love

1. The Empire of Flora A tossing garden in a rising wind, an air of expectation. And Claire tutoring me on the landscaping: pagoda plants, crotons, a kind of blue ginger; over there, African lilies, bellwethers of spring. When she points me to liriopes, I expect the terrace to be inhabited by a feminine miniature, nymph or naiad out of ancient Greece who makes a cushy, scented bed for fauns, or Jupiter Himself. I’ve forgotten that “cerulean Liriope” is the mother of Narcissus. The Empire of Flora, Claire says, is a disquieting kaleidoscope: limbs, and hair, and faces of those that love discountenances. For—as if I needed reminding— immoderate love comes to no good. Claire is wearing a crisp white shirt. To garden? … Ah, she’s rewinding her lecture on Poussin, who could take the measure of our hurt and scale it to the distance between roiling heavens and rock terrain. Now instead of pointing out plants, she’s mapping the labyrinthine myths of that famous picture plane: Smilax sprawls on Crocus; Clytie pants after Phoebus, but what she wants to show me is the distancing of Narcissus from close-seated Echo. “Look at how desire taunts: gazing is at right angles to listening: that tells you all you need to know.” The ear at right angles to the eye. I never thought … and now the rain. White-haired Claire in her shirt (spotless; linen; almost a shroud) my new garden cedes. Palmettoes fan. We put a frame around the dirt. 2. Voluptuous Provision Ice storms shatter and varnish the South. Up North, where my mother’s housebound, snow’s furious refusal to fall wears out the wind until it lies slack on swathes of earth. Here, on a peninsula that looks, on the map, like a toe shoe pivoting on the Caribbean, orchards

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