Tell About Night Flowers

Tell About Night Flowers

I don’t think it’s morbid
to watch a strand of my drifting white hair —
removed from my shirt and dropped on the
hot woodstove’s dark griddle —
wither to ash, to dust, or neither but
more an absence of the little that was,
leaving behind first a wiry trace,
then nothing remains on the stove though
I see yet a persistent shadow of its shape,

and to remember that this
is what it will be like for my whole body,
including hair if there is hair left, and eyes,
when the time comes. Earlier,
I was reading Eudora Welty’s letters to her agent
and his to her about gardening,
about camellias growing in February 1942
in Jackson, Mississippi, the tender buds
that if touched fell to the ground, bloomless,
and her dream in April of an iris
floating in front of her, emanating qualities
like colour, form, fragrance in fainter and fainter
images, trailing off into space.

©MMWms 2020


I was inspired to write the poem above today after reading sections of Tell about Night Flowers: Eudora Welty’s Gardening Letters, 1940-1949 (2013), edited by Julia Eichelberger.

Here’s the bit about the iris dream, written to Diarmuid Russell, her New York literary agent, on Easter, 5 April 1942:

“I will close with a dream — it was about an iris — The flower floated for the whole dream in front of me, in slight motion and a little larger than life so that all the pattern of it was shown closely — then going off from it stamped or printed on the air were fainter images of the iris, and it showed how by giving off its form or its qualities of color or fragrance, all these being distinct images each one, it set people to paint or to dance or to plan structures and systems or to follow after some romantic thing, all depending on the image thrown off by the iris, and then it suddenly appeared in cross section and was identical with the floor plan of a great church. This is a crude account for it was very intricate, and very delicately shown, and I had the feeling that it could go on giving off images like a fountain, for as long as I could dream it. Some time when you are not very busy advise on the tulip seed.”

It’s a fun book to read as a gardener, especially details of southern plants and blooming flowers while it’s still winter here in Hew Hampshire.

Featured image: irises at The Fells, Newbury, NH, 8 June 2018, digitally manipulated  


  1. Hello! I just happened across this and am very happy to see you enjoying Welty’s iris dream from the book I edited. Would you mind if I shared this post? Thanks in advance.

    1. You’re welcome to share it, and thanks! I may be posting more about it in coming months.

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