Ted Talk: Heir to a Garden Heart

part 1:



When I was a child,

my favorite flowers were tulipa tardas,

these tiny pale yellow

star-shaped blossoms.

In the spring, they are the first to bloom

and the first to die,

their petals falling open in the early morning

just before the dewdrops form,

their pale gold gleam

like scatterings of sunlight in the soil.

I don’t remember why I loved them so much,

only that they felt like home to me.

They were my grandmother’s favorites, too.

I used to sit barefoot with her in the garden,

watching her hands dance in the soil,

wearing sunbeams in her hair like ribbons.

I’ve always liked the way our hair looks in the sun –


like there are flames catching in it –

but I still knew there were prettier ways of being:

I wanted skin like white roses,

eyes that were cornflower blue,

hair as light and lovely as those tulipa tardas.

Once I slipped windflower seeds between my lips

because I wanted them to grow inside of me,

all white and weightless and dainty –

after all, some things in life are so lovely

you just want to become them –

but my mother saw,

made me spit them out,

told me with thorns in her voice

that windflowers were toxic,

and afterwards my mouth ached for days.

My grandmother laughed when I told her what happened.

When she laughed,

I could see pansies in her eyes

and daisies on her cheeks;

my grandmother’s flowers flourished best in her own skin,

her fingertips soft with snowdrops

her tongue sharp with rosemary.

This is the woman who taught me to read and to sing,

who first grafted her own daisies onto me,

planting prayers like primrose onto my tongue

and words like gardenias onto my lips.

Flowers are my inheritance, you see,

petals like heirlooms

passed down from my grandmother to my mother,

passed down from my mother to me,

five-year-old child carrying soft little

lamb’s ear leaves around in her

pockets like talismans,

bringing posies of dandelions

home in her backpack

because she didn’t want to leave them

alone in the schoolyard.

I always did have a habit of holding onto the things

I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to yet, even then.


Childhood was proudly carrying watering cans

back and forth

for the women who planted seeds

for a green thumb in me.


part 2:



There are some things I have always known

without ever being able to explain how I know them.

I know my veins are purple because

wisteria has taken root in my heart,

climbing the lattice of my ribcage and

growing vines through my veins;

I know bleeding hearts are a kind of flower

but also a condition you can die from;

and I know, without a doubt,

I have lived my life a thousand times before.

I would count my lives out in flower petals

but I couldn’t carry enough blossoms to do it.

I feel centuries in my bones,

a perennial plant, reborn ever year –

and for a flower child of the most unconventional kind,

there was something very isolating about

having memories older than I was.

I was a flower bud with petals spreading cautiously;

I was a girl pressing myself thin like

blossoms dried in the pages between atlases,

lips a graveyard for all the words

that died upon them,

swallowing bouquets of my own poetry,

hiding away in the garden of my chest,

tongue well-trained in

the art of sitting still and standing by

while I was force-fed lily-of-the-valley,

inhaling hemlock leaves,

feeling this small, unmistakable ache inside me,

just beneath my ribcage.

It felt like the pricking of a finger on a rose bush,

only somehow deeper and more silent.

My girlhood tasted like pain and poetry;

after all, they are taste buds on my tongue as much as

bitterness and sweetness are.

I was always much too sweet for my own good,

empathy running rampant,

wearing my heart like a corsage around my wrist,

watching people pluck my petals one by one,

a flower unfolding herself,

falling and withering, flowerhead empty –

this was feeling like I wasn’t

good enough

smart enough

pretty enough,

trying to escape my body, escape my gender

resenting the red rose petals that would fall

from between my legs every month,

because something about all that blood

made me feel wounded.

I was born on June 20th,

a day that is sometimes the last day of spring,

a day that is sometimes the summer solstice,

and so I have always known what it is

to exist in the in-betweens.

But living through girlhood

existing in between child and woman,

not quite enough of either,

not quite enough of anything!

it felt just a little too infinite to be an in-between.


Childhood was proudly carrying watering cans

back and forth

for the women who planted seeds

for a green thumb in me,


girlhood was not knowing

that beautiful things aren’t always pretty,

and wishing away the birthright of this body.


part 3:



The first time I understood that

having eyes the colour of the sun

and skin the colour of the soil my hands were made to dance in

was a blessing,

I was tracing the vines of my lineage back to East Africa,

following my roots as they spread over the ocean.

In Kenya, there were flowers everywhere.

So every day I would wear blossoms with

names I did not know into my hair,

and to this day the fragrance of those nameless flowers

still lingers on my skin.

This is skin is something I am

just beginning to learn how to worship,

how to praise the way it sighs and falls

like silk over flower petal bones;

this body and the plants growing from it

are a family heirloom far too precious to be dismissed:

a stray vein of lotus blossoms

planted along the garden bed of my spine,

lavender blooming in my lungs,

red roses and coriander alight on my hips,

snapdragons burning in my throat.

This collarbone is my grandmother’s,

and the primrose spilling over it

is her love and her kindness;

this jawline is my mother’s,

and the ivy crawling up my neck to frame my face

is her endurance.

This body is mine,

and I am heir to my garden heart,

a flowerbed with a blossom for every woman

who has taught me to be proud of being woman;

after all, by our very biology

we are the most creative instruments of god!

life blooming inside of us,

inside of me,

flowers bursting open,

swooning in the wake of their fullness.

I’m only now understanding the bravery it takes

to love myself enough to see my own magic,

because lately,

loving has started to feel

less like pulling teeth

and more like picking flowers,

and lately,

I could swear when the people I love stop breathing,

it’s only because of the forget-me-nots

catching in their throats.

I am learning the freedom that comes from

sitting naked in a flower garden,

bare legs wrapped around an old oak tree,

wearing nothing but sunlight like a gossamer negligee,

dancing my blue-note melody among the moonflowers,

learning how to live life smiling with all of my teeth,

feeling as beautiful as the way my name sounds

when my grandmother says it.

This is memorizing the feeling of goodbyes at my fingertips,

tracing them into the soil I will soon be swept away from,

like the seeds of the dandelions

I so carefully plucked as a child,

dancing away in the wind of a dying summer,

carried to my mother’s forest city,

to the garden she grew up in,

the garden she was proposed to in,

not wanting to leave because I have always had a habit

of holding onto things I am not ready to say goodbye to yet,

but not wanting to stop it either,

because I feel like I am going home.

This is watching poetry fall from my fingertips

like purple rain,

the words blooming on the page

like passionflowers;

I am rainmaker and writer and goddess and woman

and five-year-old girl kissing the petals of tulipa tardas

and swallowing seeds so she can plant

a garden in her stomach.

This is what I want to give to my own daughter someday:

I want to plant her a garden,

give her posies of everything I have learned,

show her what grace and gratitude look like,

and watch my lineage stretch out in front of me

like the clematis vines that have climbed their way up to my bedroom window.


Childhood was proudly carrying watering cans

back and forth

for the women who planted seeds

for a green thumb in me,


girlhood was not knowing

that beautiful things aren’t always pretty,


womanhood has been learning, loving, and losing.

My life has been and will always be a beautiful

rooting, growing, blooming, wilting, and growing again,

I am a child, girl, woman – I am a garden.



blossom heart; flower lungs

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