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.
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.
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.