Monday, February 11, 2013


Go look at photo 30:

Alike and yet unlike Narcissus, Shakti was a flowerman.  Particularly fond of crataeva, varuna, bilva tree, mandara – to these he devoted himself and wished ultimately to exscind his flesh, keeping only that which would be acceptable to the Trimurti.  It was his deep life’s work that began from his own mother who wore the bindi to the day of her death; his father had been an American businessman who sold plumbing systems to third-world high rise developers.

Now himself an old man, Shakti grew the sacred plants in the well-kept greenhouse of rarities at the botany school, up near the nursery that sold hardy shrubs and grass-seed and concrete benches to upper Midwestern households near a great lake in a township called Bliss.  He used his own grant money to build the place on land not his own.  They bolted a copper plaque above the front doors with his name and a date on it.  In time, the letters bled green and white and were forgotten.

Like the subtropical trees and flowers he tended at the university hothouse, Shakti never truly prospered there.  Yet, life had moved him to this place and, somehow, protected and allowed him to continue.  He was happiest at work when alone and among the long leaves and branches whose sensuous bending turned, he was once almost sure of it, whenever he entered the house of raised beds and windows condensed with fog.  A time came when he no longer guessed.

He earned money as a researcher and lecturer – a rare find, lettered and well-renowned in his field, a treasure for the school, a draw, a small bright pin on the map, and a way for administrators and marketers to tout their world-class horticulture department.  It meant, of course, they employed one world-class horticulturalist and an array of lesser mortals interested more truly in tenure and the other clichés among the collegiate strata of employ. And better still, Shakti was published in those obscure international journals devoted to growing rare things.

Outside, winter blazed in frost and wind and Sturgeon Bay froze hard for five weeks.  Some college boys took a Saturday to go fishing there and huddled in their little tarp tent that crinkled in the wind while they drank and watched the monofilament lines bob and pulled their pike and walleye for the evening fry.  There were three of them, Midwest boys, corn-fed and broad shouldered with close cropped hair and quilted flannel coats.

Mike took a swig and said, “Tell Tim your Shaky story.”  Shaky was Shakti’s nickname among them.

Tim pulled the grey wool hat to the bottoms of his ears and looked to Trevor, the oldest of them.  Tim was a junior, an AG major, required to take just one more elective in his major.  He ended up with Professor Smith and a 400-level botany.

“Yeah, well… Thursday I was walking to Further Hall, thought I’d cut across, save some time.  You know.  And I went by that big greenhouse Shaky lives in.  I mean, he’s always in there.  Lights were on.  And I was just walking by and looked in.  Sun was out – real cold though.  And Shaky was in there.”  Tim pulled at his pint of peach schnapps, grimaced, and continued, “I kid you not…first thing, guy didn’t have a shirt on, and then he’s all raising his arms and this big orange bush in there, he was shaking it.  I don’t know what he was doing.”

They laughed and swore at the craziness and kept fishing.  Tim did not tell them, but had since wondered, how did Shaky move the bush with his arms above his head?

On the lengthening days of early spring, the vestige of sun grew and, to help, it had warmed.  Shakti felt strong and fine and his knees hurt less and his breath came more easily than it had in several weeks.  A visiting scholar, young from the sound of her voice, wanted to discuss an article of his.  She had become a follower, “so to speak,” she told him on the phone.  Would he meet with her?

They would, at the town square where a campus restaurant could give them a place to sit and discuss Nymphaea and Nelumbo and how, possibly, could the plants be spread to climes not naturally their own and how she admired his efforts to do so these many years.

And so he walked from his office, a longer trek than he had taken all winter, and there she was, very young and lovely with long hair and smiling and in his old heart a secret wish emerged and was placed aside, all in less than a moment. 

She knew him without asking and held her hand to take his and greeted him by name.

“I am Kami,” she said.

“Kami?” and he knew that name well and wondered at the coincidence.  “Kami?” he repeated.

“That’s right.”  She did not release his hand.  “And nothing else.  I know you.  I hear you daily, speaking from your work.”

In that moment Shakti became a Saddhu and saw brightly in her eyes the long-limbed Mundi connecting everything and all, and they were joined and in his place began to grow a spray of flowers that did not, nor ever before, belong in that street.  Shakti Smith closed his eyes and started the long walk on the way to his wedding.

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