One of the few flowers I know with confidence by name. This one was a few feet from my front doorstep when I found it, two or three feet beyond a leaf covered in droplets of water that I posted as Not Rain. When I went back to look two or three days later, it had opened.
Calla Lilies have been associated with the Virgin Mary for at least the last thousand years, and before that with Hera, wife of Zeus, in Greek mythology. They are symbolic of purity, owing to their stunning whiteness. But they are also funerary flowers symbolic of rebirth and resurrection, probably because they are not only beautiful, but extremely tenacious. They return from damage and neglect with an insensible determination.
The lilies in my patio garden were planted by a woman who lived next door from a heap of plants dug up and tossed in the trash. She carried them home, as she was want to do, dug a hole here and there, stuck them in and watered them, for a time at least. Since planting smaller flowers around them and watering them regularly, they have turned into a lush group of plants whose blooms seem endless. To use the epithet “crazy” for this woman would be to undersell her peculiarity. The police suggested that I document everything she said and did and take it to a judge in San Luis Obispo. But before that got very far the lady who owns the building had had enough. She gave her back her deposit with the understanding that if she ever set foot on the property again she would be arrested. It was a very stressful time, and I feel a tinge of regret.
But the lilies she planted are alive and well and absolutely stunning to behold. Anyone who finds himself face to face with one, by which I mean not a photograph or a painting of one, and and finds himself not impressed, has something missing in his very soul. I remember tearing one apart as a small child, tearing the petal, which is actually a leaf, and breaking the yellow spike. I remember holding the dispirit parts in my hands, flower gone, and thinking — this is a very strange memory — I had just done something wrong. Georgia O’Keeffe and Diego Rivera, and others, made it impossible not to think of calla lilies in sexual, spiritual, esthetic, and even ethnic terms. They are a true miracle of the plant world, things that rise from the trash and bad behavior, and make the heavens glow and almost speak.