--Squirrels will triumph, said Carnegie, observing this. It's only natural.
But the seeds, surprisingly, sprouted in the spring--and wasn't that
natural too? I had assumed the seeds sterile. They ought to have been sterile.
One day I noticed in the grass, though, a rosetta of sunflower seedlings--each
topped with a little leaf bow tie--which were almost immediately no longer
seedlings; which were daily, miraculously, larger and larger--until there they
loomed, modestly huge-headed, fantastic with a rightness I wanted to call
It was these that I saw, when I sat up in bed, the early fall day that Lan
came to us. Our house was an old house, with enormously wide floorboards and,
between them, correspondingly wide cracks. I toed one of these, and felt, for
all our housekeeping, graininess. The children thumped hollering down the
stairs; Carnegie called for reinforcements, meaning me. Still, for a half
second more I enjoyed my flowers. In one way, they were all wrong--a sudden
haphazard clump in the middle of the yard. And yet how I drank them in,
through the window screen, and the sunlit fog--that awkward glory. So crowded;
disorderly; addled. They looked as if they'd dropped their contact lenses,
every one of them, and all at the same time. These were the homely,
brown-faced kind of sunflowers--some twelve feet tall, single-stalked,
scraggly-leaved. Their huge heads knocked into one another. How strange they
were--that bird feeder still nestled among their knees, like something they
might trip on. And yet how authentic, somehow. How blissfully undeterred; full
of the triumph of having become, from the seed of themselves, themselves.
Would this Lan--her name was Lan, meaning 'orchid'--like them?
Back when I was a sophomore in college, I spent a summer in Hong Kong,
studying Mandarin. A summer was not a long time. Still, I did learn, a little,
about how the Chinese in general prized the cultured. The cultivated.
These sunflowers, meanwhile, were anything but.
Of course, Mainlanders were different than Hong Kongers. The younger
generations were different than the older. The less educated were different
than the more. Daoists were different. Lan herself could be different.
In this family, we do not generalize, my mother would say. In this family,
we keep an open mind.
Still, in my heart of hearts, I wished that this Lan would never come to
behold them at all. I wished not to have to explain their beauty.
Now I believed, please understand, in openness. In the importance of
cultural exchange, especially what with globalization and whatnot. My family
had always hosted exchange students. And whatever the circumstances under
which this Lan came, she was, after all, a relative of Carnegie's. Family.
Yet if I could add a word to our language, it would be a word for the peace
a grown woman feels on the days--the rare days--when she needs to consider no
view but her own.
WENDY / Dad has the windshield wipers on but like no one can see on account
of the fog. How can the plane even land, says Lizzy, but Dad says there are
special instruments, no one has to be able to see anything.
--It's like jumping, he says, can't we land on the floor with our eyes
--A plane doesn't have feet like ours, says Lizzy. That's reassuring but
--Oh really, says Dad. And where did you learn that?
--Some things you know yourself if you're smart enough to realize it, she
--What's reassuring? I say.
--Oh, use your brain, says Lizzy.
--Ah-ah-ah-choo! says Bailey.
Baby Bailey is so little he still has this mirror in front of him in the
car. Now he sneezes at the baby in the mirror again--ah-ah-ah-chooo!--and
laughs and laughs, loving himself so much that he drools. Dad says he's like
Narcissus making his own pool, but then doesn't tell us what that means. In
the fullness of time you will get my jokes, he says. In the fullness of time.
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