From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

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Fiction

Collecting Ynes

maravilla, marigold, Tagetes erecta
When Ynes was a baby
she ate a marigold.
Her mother hooked a finger
into Ynes’s mouth
but it was too late.
After that, the family
took care to deny temptation:
all bouquets in high places,
no more playtime amid
the flowerbeds.

Ynes doesn’t remember the marigold, but she has a recurring dream in which she accidentally swallows an entire tangerine. She grows very warm and realizes it was not a tangerine at all but a small sun. She knows if she tells her mother what she swallowed, there will be a panic. So instead, she keeps her mouth shut. The sun sits warm in her belly and shines tendrils of light down her arms and legs. When rays escape her fingertips, she puts on mittens.

áloe vera, aloe vera, Aloe vulgaris Lam
When Ynes lived on the ranch
she learned how to ride horses.
At her nudge, even the most
timid plunged into thickets
of needled huisache.
She made curfew with seconds
to spare, blood on her face and arms,
mesquite pods in her hair.

Ynes remembers the thrill of racing through the thorn forest. It makes her even more antsy while an older sister tut-tut-tuts and paints her with clear aloe vera gel. Face, arms, legs . . . the forest was a cat’s cradle of barbs and spikes. “No one will want to marry you,” her sister chides, and Ynes retorts, “I’ll be a nun. I’ll marry God. He looks into our hearts, not at our scars.” Overnight, the gel dries in stripes on Ynes’s skin. She dreams she is a tiger. The sun in her belly gives her pelt its orange glow. Her stripes camouflage her and she merges with the jungle.

manzanilla, chamomile, Matricaria chamomilla
When Ynes was widowed
(not by God but by Herman,
a German-Spanish merchant),
she wept tears of chamomile tea.
Ynes wasn’t surprised.
For years she’d sipped chamomile
with always-ill Herman.
If she slashed her throat, she thought,
only herbal tea would flow.
Alas, the home remedy
proved as helpless as all the
drugs his doctor prescribed.

Ynes remembers the whispers of family as golden tears trickled down her face. She wishes she still heard whispers, rather than the shrieks she now elicits. After Augustin, husband two, destroyed her poultry business, she had a nervous breakdown. She ripped out fistfuls of her own hair, and from those bald patches, a garden sprouted. The doctor cannot explain how succulents grew from Ynes’s punished head, but he advises her to wear a hat and keep the plants dry. Maybe the hen and chicks will wither and fall off.

Sensitiva, mimosa, Mimosa mexiae
When Ynes was 55
and had long since sloughed
the succulents (and Augustin,
that wretched man-child, too!)
she turned from people to plants,
social work to botany.
A nontraditional student,
she volunteered for an
expedition to Mexico,
where she collected 500
specimens and then fell off
a cliff.

Ynes remembers hitting her head, but she doesn’t know she lost consciousness. When she rolls to a stop, senseless, the nearby flora smell her spilled blood and, in it, traces of mesquite, aloe vera, chamomile, hen and chicks, even the original marigold. The shrubs and vines surround her in a healing cocoon. When her companions arrive, the plants are dead and Ynes is alert again, nursing only an injured hand and some cracked ribs. “It could’ve been so much worse,” says her mentor. Ynes bemoans the abrupt end of her adventure. At least she discovered a new species. Not bad, she thinks, for an old lady without a degree!

balsa, balsa, Ochroma pyramidale
When Ynes was 61
she traveled three thousand miles
by steamer, launch, and canoe
up the Amazon River.
Her guide touched a kind of sumac
and his face and hands swelled up
so badly he had to go home.
Ynes handled the same plant
and was immune.
In the crawling humidity,
other collectors’ specimens
were infested or grew mold.
Ynes’s specimens,
all 65,000 of them,
stayed pristine.

Ynes remembers the raft ride as pure exhilaration. The mozos, her local guides, are less nostalgic. They canoed up a tributary so Ynes could scour the jungle for weeks in the rainy season. Finally, the river grew too wild and deep for the canoes. Ynes persuaded the men to help her build a raft out of balsa logs. The balsa, tasting the blood of her blistered hands, recognized family. Playful as Ynes, the raft bucked like a horse and spun her around a whirlpool three times before breaking free. The balsa sensed the dark blossoms in Ynes’s body but could not vanquish them. By day, Ynes writes about her explorations; at night, the sun inside her grows dim.

aster, Mexican aster, Mexianthus mexicanus
When Ynes was 68
she died of lung cancer.
Colleagues around the world sent
so many flowers, they filled
the first two pews of the church,
where blood relatives sit.
The bouquets on her grave
never died.
A groundskeeper got scolded
for wasting water, but
he swore he never poured
a drop.

Ynes remembers eating the marigold when the roots come to collect her. To think, she once swallowed a flower, and now she is being consumed by flowers! And shrubs, vines, and trees. All manner of roots conspire to crack open her coffin, to free her body and pull it apart, disperse flesh and bone. Ynes spreads far and wide, and all the while, the welcoming roots whisper, “Sister . . . ” Ynes lives on as the plants do, as she was always meant to: tenacious, timeless. Transubstantiation in reverse.

Lisa M. Bradley

Lisa M. Bradley

A queer Latina living in Iowa, Lisa M. Bradley writes everything from haiku to novels, usually with a speculative slant. Her work has appeared in many venues, including LeVar Burton Reads, Uncanny, Strange Horizons, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Her first collection is The Haunted Girl; her debut novel is Exile. Recently she coedited with R.B. Lemberg the Ursula Le Guin tribute anthology, Climbing Lightly Through Forests. On Twitter, she’s @cafenowhere. Learn more at lisambradley.com