Lilac Season

Reading Kelly Kelleher’s essay on the colour lilac, the fashion shade this spring/summer, awakened a dormant inspiration to write a poem on lilacs. Going to Saskatchewan a few weeks ago (still lilac season there) to visit our aging mothers provided the second incentive. Re-reading Linda Pastan’s “I am Haunted by Lilacs” was the muse-poem that completed the triad.

Lilac Season
After the crocus
your prairie buds begin life
the colour purple,

shy to open up,
like country girls in city schools
waiting their turn to blossom.

Later, clustered florets
of lilac mass, their pungent perfume
headstrong as teenage girls.

Four-star flowers,
gorgeous, branching, in their prime;
the memory we want to last.

Too soon the petals fade,
softly blurring grey, edges turning brown,
muddy, like Monet’s palette late in years.

Their scent’s now lost.
Only darkened leaves, heart-shaped, flutter.
Few will stop to regard.

Alone, my mom is sitting.
Her room is dark, her senses dim yet knowing: there’s still
life—bedside, a vase of lilacs.


Update: Langer, Emily. “Linda Pastan, poet of concentrated beauty, dies at 90.” Washington Post, February 1, 2023.

Kelleher, Kelly. Lilac, the Colour of Half-Morning, Doomed Hotels and Fashionable Feelings. Paris Review: May 9, 2018.

Lemay, Shawna. The flower can always be changing. Windsor, Ontario: Palimpset Press, 2018. Undoubtedly, Shawna’s latest book of poem essays (and her blog posts) also had an unconscious effect on the writing of Lilac Season.

For her brilliant poem I am Haunted by Lilacs, Linda Pastan must be thanked for her inspiration. The poem is from her book Traveling Light, published by W.W. Norton & Company in New York in 2011.

The lilac photo was taken in Weldon, Saskatchewan.

11 Responses

  1. Interesting story and a prairie standard for sure.
    Just ran into the Chinese Lilac last week, a bit different from the standard issue but the Chinese Lilac is a great addition to any yard, beautiful and fragrant with a broader spectrum flower than the standard, just more to see in the flower and apparently it blooms later in the spring to early summer.
    Love the analogy between lilacs and country girls, ah yes, memories and yet still the present, well done.
    Strange spring in Saskatchewan this year, the crocus’s were more abundant than ever, never seen the like, roses are coming on strong as well, Mother Nature must be providing optimum conditions, also floating down the river yesterday the ferns are simply fantastic, a bumper crop for sure.
    Hope the Tiger Lilies do as well, a personal favourite,although my color blindness makes it difficult to locate at times(red/green combination)

  2. Don’t you have a recipe for lilacs? Thanks very much for the rhubarb recipe. It reminded me to use use it. It also is a great reminder of childhood days of much more baking.

  3. Beautiful,powerful, fitting analogies. Will never look at lilacs again without remembering your poem. Thank you.

    1. I forgot to credit Shawna Lemay whose most recent book, The flower can always be changing, (a line from Virginia Woolf), was an unconscious muse as well.

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