The Night-Blooming Cereus

 — The plant world is full of wonders.  Amazing sights, scents and experiences abound for anyone who loves gardens and flowers. One of the highlights of a lifetime of loving plants has to be the opening of a night-blooming cereus.  Taking years to produce the first blossom, blooming only at night, with a bloom that dies before dawn, this flower gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “awe-inspiring”.  The poet Robert Hayden has captured the long wait, the anticipation, the breath-taking flowering and the profound effect it has on those watching the almost miraculous opening of the bud.  

            And so for nights
we waited, hoping to see
the heavy bud
            break into flower.

            On its neck-like tube
hooking down from the edge
of the leaf-branch
            nearly to the floor,

            the bud packed
tight with its miracle swayed
stiffly on breaths
            of air, moved

            as though impelled
by stirrings within itself.
It repelled as much
            as it fascinated me

            sometimes–snake,
eyeless bird head,
beak that would gape
            with grotesque life-squawk.

            But you, my dear,
conceded less to the bizarre
than to the imminence
            of bloom. Yet we agreed

            we ought
to celebrate the blossom,
paint ourselves, dance
            in honor of

            archaic mysteries
when it appeared. Meanwhile
we waited, aware
            of rigorous design.

The night-blooming cereus, slowly opening - for one night only!

 

            Backster’s
polygraph, I thought,
would have shown
            (as clearly as it had

            a philodendron’s
fear) tribal sentience
in the cactus, focused
            energy of will.

            The belling of
tropic perfume–that
signaling
            not meant for us;

            the darkness
cloying with summoning
fragrance. We dropped
            trivial tasks

      and marveling
beheld at last the achieved
flower. Its moonlight
            petals were

            still unfold-
ing, the spike fringe of the outer
perianth recessing
            as we watched.

            Lunar presence,
foredoomed, already dying,
it charged the room
            with plangency

            older than human
cries, ancient as prayers
invoking Osiris, Krishna,
            Tezcatlipoca.

            We spoke
in whispers when
we spoke
            at all . . .

Robert Hayden, Collected Poems,
Liveright Publishing, 1997.

Night-Blooming Cereus Bloom, almost open
Each bloom is larger than a person's hand!
The 10-inch-wide flowers have such an amazing fragrance that, once the plant develops mature buds, many growers stay awake all night simply to enjoy the fragrance.
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