This is the time of year when a flowering plant can seem like a miracle. Cut flowers just don’t cut it. Kept alive through refrigeration, there’s too often a funereal feeling about them. The heady scent of lilies, the bright smile of Gerbera daisies can’t mask the truth that you’re looking at something that’s been knifed and has only days to live. An orchid on the other hand, even the $20 moth variety sold by the hundreds at Whole Foods, can last for months. (Which is quite a bargain considering that, at the height of Orchidelirium in Europe in the 1800s, a single orchid plant could go for thousands of dollars.) Their flowering is a performance art: tightly furled blossoms that unwrap themselves in a tantalizing, slow motion striptease. They prefer snug spaces and indirect light and not being fussed over — like cats (who, by the way, leave orchids alone). Scentless for the most part, their beauty is all about form and balance.

Here’s a poem on the subject by the late American poet and publisher Sam Hamill who, together with Tree Swenson, founded Copper Canyon Press, one of the country’s finest poetry houses.

The Orchid Flower

by Sam Hamill
(1943 – 2018)

Just as I wonder
whether it’s going to die,
the orchid blossoms

and I can’t explain why it
moves my heart, why such pleasure

comes from one small bud
on a long spindly stem, one
blood red gold flower

opening at mid-summer,
tiny, perfect in its hour.

Even to a white-
haired craggy poet, it’s
purely erotic,

pistil and stamen, pollen,
dew of the world, a spoonful

of earth, and water.
Erotic because there’s death
at the heart of birth,

drama in those old sunrise
prisms in wet cedar boughs,

deepest mystery
in washing evening dishes
or teasing my wife,

who grows, yes, more beautiful
because one of us will die.


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16 Responses to Orchids

  1. Cheryl Sullivan says:

    So love all your postings!

  2. Barry Littmann says:

    Barry, a writer on the couch.
    You’re right about cut flowers, I’ve never had luck with them, every time
    I plant them they die. But I do love flowers, won’t be long before they start to pop.

  3. Phyllis says:

    Thanks for the lovely post/poem. =p,

  4. Susan Fisher says:

    One of our West Stockbridge neighbors Lynn Ryan just sent a picture of a gorgeous, very full orchid that was blooming for the third time. One can only be in awe of her green thumb.

  5. Margie says:

    Thanks for lovely poem and orchid photo, Liza. I’ve typically found orchids difficult to manage – always did better caring for those of our traveling neighbors than any of my own?!? (maybe it was the cats??)

    • Liza says:

      They say that most die from over-watering. Cats actually ignore them because they don’t give off a scent. Maybe worth one more try?

  6. Max Gyllenhaal says:

    Thanks again for reminding me the importance of flowers, especially in late February.


  7. Very touching poem, Liza. Thank you.

  8. Emily Gyllenhaal says:

    Stunning photo and poem. Makes me want to rush out to TJ’s or Whole Foods.
    The poem captures life in so few words. Beautiful and sad all at once. Impermanence.
    I love “death is at the center of birth”, I remember feeling a flash of that when both my children were born and I couldn’t really understand it or put words to it until now. Thank you…

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