Reading in the rain

These are amazing: each
Joining a neighbor, as though speech
Were a still performance.
Arranging by chance

To meet as far this morning
From the world as agreeing
With it, you and I
Are suddenly what the trees try

To tell us we are:
That their merely being there
Means something; that soon
We may touch, love, explain.

And glad not to have invented
Such comeliness, we are surrounded:
A silence already filled with noises,
A canvas on which emerges

A chorus of smiles, a winter morning.
Placed in a puzzling light, and moving,
Our days put on such reticence
These accents seem their own defense.

John Ashbery (Some Trees, 1956)

I first came across John Ashbery a decade ago, through his translations of Arthur Rimbaud’s poetry. Rain, Kalidasa, Tagore and Verlaine, and through them Rimbaud and Ashbery. Such a simple straight line!

Cannon ball flowers

Two days is what it took for the buds to grow and open. I watched the last of the cannonballs budding for two days until I got to see the large open flowers. I like the splash of colour the six petals provide, the yellow of the tips growing into a bright pink at the base, where they attach to six light green sepals. I’m not the only person who enjoys looking at the odd flower, as I can tell by the fact that it is quite a common garden tree. Its binomial, Couroupita guianensis, is probably a mistake, since its original range is an ocean away, around the periphery of the Amazon basin.

The common name, cannonball, may come from the spherical buds, or perhaps from the fruit (thanks NN, for the discussion below). The genus Coroupita contains two other species, one found along rivers in the Amazon basin, and another in Central and northern parts of South America. I’ve never seen them, but apparently they are hard to distinguish from this tree except by the showy flowers of this one. That probably means that they have been taken to other continents in modern times, in the same wave of exports from South America that globalized potatoes and chili. Isn’t it interesting that modern era essentially coincides with the era in which these plants were taken across the world?

The tree that I pass on my daily walk flowers in the late spring, when the whole trunk is covered in long racemes of flowers. The flowers which you see here have come at the tail end of the season. More than the colour it is the strange arrangement of the male sexual organs which catches the eye. The stamens are arranged in an androecium which folds over on itself like a hood. Apparently less than one in a hundred flowers gives rise to fruits. Does this mean that most flowers are male? Maybe, although I haven’t seen a count like this reported anywhere. I was locked in because of COVDI-19 most of this flowering season, so I haven’t seen the fruits this year. All four of the flowers on this raceme seem to be male, so I guess I won’t see the fruits at all this year: another of the strange absences that this epidemic has created.