[Process notes below.]
There’s something inherently decadent about magnolia season, the way each flower falls open, heavy and impossibly large. Blooming in waves, watching earlier buds drop and brown in the damp shade below. Each one greedy and defiant in their leisure as we bustle uncomfortably in the sweltering wetness in the early weeks of honest-to-goodness-heat.
When I was in second grade, I climbed an untrimmed magnolia after a rainy night away from home. My tiny body slid off the moss of a thin upper branch and my leg got caught between branches stronger than my bones, the world an overturned mess. When I finally hit the ground, the damp shade rushed to fill my lungs and mingled there with the cool morning air. I have been breathless ever since.
I wish magnolias smelled like gardenias, but imagine the city flooded for a month or more with that sticky, velvet scent. No one would be able to get anything done, we’d just linger in the shade, talking in whispers about what we one day hope to name our babies.
I grew up with every intention of being a good girl. Holy and beloved and kind and modest. It sounded like a challenge worth tackling. It sounded like no one else thought that would be a challenge for me. It sounded like heaven. Surely, I was strong enough, lovable enough, faithful enough to be all of those things.
You can cut a magnolia, but you cannot keep it. It is best in the elements, in the heat, steam rising off of them after an afternoon thunderstorm. Hot and slick like bodies after sex, going rotten with pleasure.
Southern Christian womanhood has always been an aspirational dichotomy of strength and reverence. My nature bends towards irreverent and easily tempted. We are raised as heirlooms by whole centuries of history, molded into the architecture of our hometown. Here to provide shade and beauty, delicately cut back when we grow too unwieldy.
Sin such as mine is like bad manners to an Old Testament God. I’ve called the Four Corners, gotten black out drunk, kissed boys whose names I don’t remember. I’m a great liar and a coward. He knows I know better, but I stopped apologizing long ago because there didn’t seem to be much gained from grace.
But now there’s this Midwestern man that loves Jesus more than he could ever love me, who reminds me of how far from my childhood dreams I’ve run. I tell him I’ll never be a Proverbs 31 woman and he chooses me anyways. His skin smells like wet earth and summer nights. He tastes like hope and unbroken promises.
I come from muddy, broken beginnings and my petals are all but worn off. I unfold into more than any man can keep in his house, divinity surging through my roots.
This piece was originally handwritten in July 2018 as two separate pieces, titled Magnolias, Pt 1 and Magnolias, Pt 2. I’ve combined them here to get closer to the main theme I think I was struggling with at the time I wrote it, as well add some clarity that’s come with 11 months distance from the original pieces.
I also tried to carry the “eating flowers” theme through this piece and it was a GHASTLY attempt, really.