Maurice Brazil Prendergast, 1858-1924
Genevieve was enjoying her ninth birthday party immensely! To wake up as nine instead of eight this morning was a tremendous step forward in Genevieve’s mind. She was already deciding what she was newly empowered to do now that she was a whole year older. She had put one of those things into effect five minutes ago when she had announced that before ice cream and cake they would play games, games that she had chosen.
“Alright, everyone,” she said in her new nine-year old voice, sounding uncharacteristically bossy, “Line up behind this line. We’re going to play “May I?” The children lined up obediently all except Jason which was no surprise. Jason, the class bully who particularly enjoyed tormenting Genevieve every chance he got, was not about to do anything she suggested. Against Genevieve’s protests her mother had insisted that Jason be invited to the party. Their mothers were best friends. Genevieve had no choice and had reluctantly given in. Now Genevieve gave her mother an imploring look.
“You too, Jason,” her mother said. “Cake and ice cream at the end of the game.” Jason frowned but slowly stepped behind the line.
“Red light, green light rules,” Genevieve announced and the game began. “Green light!” she shouted and the children dashed forward with cries of “May I?”
“Red light!” Genevieve said and the kids slid to a halt. “Jason, go back to the start, you didn’t say, “May I?” Jason looked annoyed but the kids all pointed him back to the starting line and he reluctantly retreated.
“Green light!” commanded Genevieve and the children ran for the finish line. Jason ran his hardest, knocking several kids down in his mad dash for the finish but he was too far behind to catch up to the winner. “Back to the start, Jason!” said Genevieve with relish. “You forgot to say, “May I?” Jason slunk back to the start.
“Nine is going to be a great year,” Genevieve thought with delight. “Ice cream and cake everyone!”
Flower Moon Day
We went to Volunteer Park on Saturday.
It was Moon Day, the day each month
we give to each other; the May Flower full moon
waited in the wings to rise that evening.
Crossing the lake, curving around 10th by St. Mark’s,
we turned left at Prospect
then left again by the tower,
and headed for the conservatory,
where flowers can be counted on all year.
A hundred-year-old glasshouse,
the conservatory bristled with life last Saturday—
orchids, maidenhair ferns,
hydrangea displays, artists sketching them;
an ancient Euphoria fanned its succulent frills,
carnivorous pitcher plants dangled sacs
secreting nectar that can attract, kill, and digest
The flowers were dazzling.
Bright red splashes of orchid cactus flowers
coughed thin tendrils and one perfect star
from their throats, Chilean Firebush
outside abuzz with scarlet blaze
But it was the small cacti
that drew me this day,
you could easily pass amidst
the showier glories of the greenhouse:
Mamillaria Bocasana, fuzzy balls of gauze
and prickles; Mamillaria Parkinsonal,
owl’s eyes with spirals of spikes;
Rebutia Neocrumingii, a croquet ball
dotted with barbs, a miniature mace.
When I stopped and studied them, I gasped.
Many of them were blooming too!
Petite red dots expanded to dainty white blossoms
half the size of my pinkie finger nail,
yellow flowers so tiny I nearly missed them.
Stunned, I moved slowly,
noticing, simply noticing,
paying attention to the miracle
of beauty among the thorns.
I’m not sure if the message here was to stop and look,
to notice beauty wherever it can be seen,
or that just because I haven’t discovered it
doesn’t mean there is no beauty, no life, no creation,
to be seen and celebrated.
I do know my heart was lifted
on Flower Moon Day
in the glasshouse, there among the cacti;
that I left feeling blessed.
© Mary Ann Woodruff
It’s May, it’s May! The Lusty Month of May!” (you’re welcome, Camelot fans)
Once again, the linguist in me has emerged! Let me tell you a bit about the origins of“may” (as a noun) which I find fascinating and you may find readable. Many thanks primarily to the Oxford English Dictionary, as well as my 4 years of Latin and one course in Old English in college. Oh, and I taught The Canterbury Tales and did some stuff with Chaucer’s original language, so I’m practically an expert. Actually, I’m rusty, and to be honest, I only looked up, like, 5 words. But I did the research! Please feel free to argue with me in the comments.
At its first appearance (says me) “may” appeared as mæg as a Germanic derivation, and it meant “a male relative”; this is how it’s used in Beowulf. Ic eom Higelaces mæg ond maago ðegn (something like, “I am from Higglesbottom, as I am his kinsman and his soldier”). Similarly, the word could also be used to mean “parent,” as in Þa bearn arisað ágen hyra magas (Bible quote: “The baby arises from his parents”). I just love Old English, so I was throwing some at you.
Here’s some more…On the Julian/Gregorian calendars, the fifth month is May (Old English calendar jargon for the 15th of May: on Þære fiftan nihte on Maies monð). By the way, the Julian and Gregorian calendars are both solar calendars, but Julius Caesar said that there are 365.25 days in a year, but in 1582 Pope Gregory said there are 365.2425, which evidently makes a big difference when you’re trying to decide when Easter is. But I digress. “May” is named for the Greek deity Maia who was a goddess of fertility, which makes sense, because the beginning of summer is when it’s time to reap what has been sown, and you always want that to be a lot. Or, at least, enough. Unless you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, where the equivalent would be November, which means “9”. You’ll have to ask someone Down Under about that symbolism.
May became a month that implied fertility for both agriculture and human beings. A poem from 1568 reads, “In May gois dammosalis and dammis In gardyng is grene,” which clearly means, “In May those damn kids get busy in the green gardens.” Hooray for Middle English! Those crazy French; they made English more recognizable to those who speak English. So from here on out, “May” tends to be synonymous with optimism, vitality, being in one’s prime, and all that is blossoming and fruitful. Starting in the 13th century, “may” also meant a maiden, virgin or young woman. It stuck for a while, though, since in 1870 William Morris wrote in “The Earthly Paradise”, “Amid these latter words of his, the may/ From her fair face had drawn her hands away.” Also, in England, some educational establishments refer to the post-Easter exams as “Mays.”
One last thing: ever wonder why June is the month for weddings? Because Ovid wrote, mense malum Maio, nubere volgus, which loosely translates as “Only the vulgar crowd gets married in May.” Considering the colossal effort I put into the research, I end on a sad note of mystification. Seems the perfect month to get married to me. I got married in February. Now, February refers to the Latin word for “purification”…
Jehovah sent two women to our door.
One had a mouth outlined in plum,
her eyelids heavy with lash.
The other woman had brown skin and a kind smile; she lagged behind.
They carried literature, tracts of comic paper.
Six hundred and sixty-one languages contained their message, a number of great pride
meant to impress on me the effort of translating to the World
what only one hundred forty-four thousand could obtain.
(So few of us would meet our neighbors and loved ones in their heaven.)
I hoped I said the right things
about Freedom and Belief– recalling my mother’s attempt to rebuff–
so long ago, calling herself just a poor sinner, only to whet the appetite of eager Witnesses.
I meant to wish them well and see them on their way, my Island neighbors.
I may have done so, if I recall, eager, if not equally, on my part,
not to offend or bruise what I might.
The plum-mouthed lady drooped, I thought,
in the heat, or through some other internal current of emotion or thought.