Hope among the flowers


I read too much meaning in everything, I know it.

So, I am searching for the significance of one single blossom, which I am eyeing to pluck and put in a vase to stare at come breakfast, lunch or dinner.

There used to be two peonies in the backyard. My mom planted them, and when they stopped blooming after she died, more than half a century ago, I tried to revive the pair by transplanting them ... to no avail.

So there is only one bush now, in front of the house, and it produced a single bud, rather puny, but still. And it grew enough to receive the visit of a solitary ant.

Anyway, I nursed some hope, and now, wonderful enough, the single bud is in full flower – which is what I wished for, almost prayed for.

Well, up on Hope Street, in Providence, there is a tailor/cleanser with a nice convenient parking lot in front. On the wall that defines the space, there is a fine mural showing peonies and the motto, “We live off Hope” – or words to that effect. Which makes me think of the odd names of our Bay islands: Prudence, Patience, Hope, Despair.

Well, in the mural, a flourishing garden of actual, real, peonies contrasts with the symbolic but also realistic images of peonies just beyond.

Somehow there is a metaphorical/allegorical significance posed by all this nonsense. Does it mean that my memory of my mom is shrinking or fading? No, it’s not that, not at all. Does it spell out the inevitability of diminishment in all things human? Maybe, but I reject that idea as well.

I leave it to you, dear reader, to help me out here. My favorite humorist is James Thurber, who wrote, late in his career, a simple anti-war illustrated tale called “The Last Flower,” in which the author/artist sketches the discouraged sagging stem and petal that survives wars and helps to rebuild love and life. That sort of sums up what my own personal peony has come to mean to me!

You may note that “Hope” (with a symbolic anchor) is the motto of our colony/state. Just so, “Hatikvah,” which means “The Hope,” is the name of Israel’s national anthem. Maybe my peony is a prayer…

MIKE FINK (mfink33@aol.com) teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design.

Mike Fink, Sketchbook