The Flower Can Always Be Changing by Shawna Lemay

May 14, 2019

Shawna Lemay’s The flower can always be changing opens with an essay on the life and death and life of flowers filmed in time lapse photography.

She writes, “The colours. The fading. The beauty of decline, the simplicity. All of the attendant moods arrive and pass in waves, swelling and subsiding, at dawn, at dusk.” (10). While we rarely take notice of their slow and certain demise, the outcome of their decline nonetheless affects us when we discard the brittle remains of a once vibrant bouquet. We might reflect then on the reason the flowers came into our lives, that we will miss their cheerful presence in the room, and that their ruin is a sad but inevitable (beautiful even) outcome of the passing of time. This first piece sets the stage for a series of short essays and reflections in which Lemay considers flowers, the clarity of objects seen through the lens of a camera and in variable conditions of light, our small grievances, her own writing habits, and the stillness she so needs for her practice—but that requires effort to attain.

Drawing inspiration from writers, philosophers and artists as diverse as Clarice Lispector and Francis Bacon, Remedios Varo and Georgia O’Keeffe, Rumi and Thomas Merton, Lemay distills the necessary fragility of flowers, the notion that their very impermanence allows us to experience more fully the larger arc of passing days. Flowers, her central motif, are used to measure time and to observe and respond to daily and seasonal changes in the light. For Lemay, flowers offer the hope of blooming, of becoming, but also of solace as they fade and fall away—a reminder that so much in life is transitory and that we ought to take the time to appreciate it in every way possible. As for light, Lemay writes: “I’ve become obsessed with light and how it changes the way we see something we always see.” (76) These ideas come full circle in the final essay, “All Summer Long, Flowers”. Here Lemay references Thomas Merton’s classic advice to watch the sun rise each morning because the intensity of these brief moments opens our hearts and allows us to consider our own place in the world. She writes: “All summer long, flowers. And all winter long the path through the garden is inward. A time to learn to be awake to the flowers within.” (128)

Lemay’s little book comes to us at a loud and rancorous time, something she acknowledges in the essay “My Griefs”. After describing her experience with Bell’s Palsy, a condition that causes temporary—in most cases—numbness and loss of control over the muscles on one side of the face, she writes: “My griefs are small and I know yours might be large”. Indeed, several pieces in the book are about the slight annoyances and aggravations we encounter every day. Things like sudden cruel teasing from a friend, how we rationalize our actions as we maneuver away from unwanted conversations or encounters, the vacuous Internet, the mistaken idea that writing is easy. For Lemay, griefs large or small hold potential, and she encourages us to “extract the poetry in the quotidian” and to “realize that this type of seeking is available” (77) to us all.

The flower can always be changing is both a thoughtful exploration of one writer’s creative process and an invitation to us all to seek out the space of mind required to do our own best work.

The Flower Can Always Be Changing
by Shawna Lemay
Palimpsest Press, 2018, 135 pp., $14.95
ISBN: 9781926794693

Jody Baltessen is an archivist and poet in Winnipeg.

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