The Rose’s Winter Dream
Fergal Mc Nally || April/May 2021
Spring came again. The rose bush awoke and her blooming began. A delicious tingle gripped her buds as she felt the beat of the world’s heart. The power of life surged through her, growing stronger and stronger until her bright red petals burst forth in a soundless howl of pure happiness.
She stood in her full glory and proudly beheld the beautiful world of her making. Feathered admirers sweetened the air with the music of gratitude. Unfortunate worms, who’d never know the soul-expanding sight of her petals, took comfort from touching her roots. The grass gazed up at her like an admiring army before the queen they’d sworn to protect. (They didn’t have heads but she presumed they were facing her; how could it have been otherwise?)
Of all the creatures she nurtured, the old man was the one whose supplications she enjoyed the most. He knelt before her and pulled up the curious, green dots that persistently appeared at her feet. He fed the tips of the grass to his roaring pet, helping them maintain the uniform size she preferred. When the jealous sun made her garden too hot he appeared with his little jug of rain.
The first bee of the year arrived and addressed her in the respectful hush which all bees instinctively adopted when speaking to the rose bush:
“You don’t even have to ask,” she replied in a tone that left the bee in no doubt that he most certainly did have to ask, and to ask with a politeness bordering on the fearful.
“Giving is my life,” she continued in a slow, thoughtful voice, as if she hadn’t made this speech every day of every spring for as long as she’d been blooming. “You are so understandably captivated by the glory of my petals, you can’t see how much more there is to me. I have deep roots that spread my beauty through the earth. The grass, the trees, even the song of the birds: they all flow from me. If you could grasp the extent of my effort you’d wonder why I didn’t pull up my roots and live content with my own perfection.”
She paused. The bee waited patiently.
“Well,” she continued, “it wouldn’t be entirely true to say that I hadn’t, in fleeting moments of weakness, harbored such selfish fantasies. But never for more than a moment because, and you might find this difficult to understand, living for myself would be a betrayal of my deepest nature. My generosity is the essence and foundation of my beauty. The delicacy of my petals, the exquisite curves of my stems: these are the physical manifestation of pure selflessness.”
She fell silent, overcome by the poetry of her own words. When the bee was sure that there was no more to come, he gently removed some pollen and buzzed off back to work.
“The simple-mindedness of other creatures is a little tedious,” sighed the rose bush.
She immediately pushed away the thorny thought. Thorns on a stem provided a pleasing contrast, but thorns of the mind could taint inner purity and lessen the splendor of the surface.
Spring eased its way into summer and life flowed colorfully through the peaceful garden. When autumn’s harshness crept into the air the rose bush elegantly shed her scarlet and drifted into contented slumber. The edge of the breeze sharpened as the sun grew pale. In the midst of a midnight storm, the old man closed his eyes for the last time.
The rose bush woke to an unknown world. The birds were screaming. Long blades of tangled grass lay like massacred soldiers. The garden wall wore mossy stubble and scabs of peeled paint. Flowerless, spike-leaved plants sucked the goodness from her soil, and her buds were bare. Never having made an effort to bloom, she wasn’t sure how to go about it. She felt for the distant heart but the earth below her held nothing but fear. I can’t expose my most intimate self to a world like this, she thought. Here it’s safer to be nothing but thorns.
For the first spring since she’d been a seed the rose bush didn’t bloom. She spent the waking season as one more creature struggling for life. The bees buzzed past as if she didn’t exist. Slimy beings squirmed up her stems and feasted on her leaves. The indifferent sun beat down, unmoved by her suffering. Her memory dimmed till she no longer knew that petals lay within her. When autumn finally arrived she sank gratefully into sleep hoping that she’d never wake again.
While the garden assumed its bare winter aspect new life stirred in the house. The windows held a warm glow through the dark evenings and children’s laughter welcomed the snow. As the Earth began to draw deeper breaths, a young woman set about tending the garden.
When the rose bush awoke, the blades of grass held their proper stance of stiff devotion. The air was full of the birds’ melodious praise. Her fearful memories fell away like dead leaves. The familiar tingle awoke in her buds as the Earth’s life blood flowed into her body. Joy swelled slowly to its explosive peak and she kissed the day with her petals.
Now she tells the bees about her hibernation dream: “Nothing was as it should be. Life wasn’t life, it was just struggle.” She’s forgotten the old man but she’s fond of the young woman, who’s often moved to tears by her magnificent fragility. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, she’s jolted from slumber by a memory she calls a dream. Alone in the cold darkness she clamps her petals and tries to silence her mind until the sun returns.
Fergal Mc Nally, winner of the 2020 Caterpillar Poetry Prize, is an Irish man who lives in Italy. He’s spent the majority of his “adult” life teaching for money and writing for love. He’s currently working on a collection of fairy tales, which he plans to call Lullaby Light.