Think of England
Pale gold of the afternoon braided and wound round and tucked into the hood of evening, the cool air prickling our skin only after we’d noticed how dark the the rocks had become. They are as smooth as apples, and fit the hand nearly as well, these rocks, and in the light they are grayed shades of rose, chartreuse, eggshell and sky.
Roses hedge the strand; the road is just beyond, then small houses nudged into the conifer-dark hill. Not cabbage, tea, damask, or climbing: these are wild. Nootka and rugosa.The thorns taste of salt. Petals, a creamy pink, were lost to the the waves months ago, likewise the green leaves. All that’s left are naked brambles trimmed with hips, thick as berries. They’ve been shocked by first frost, beat up by the winds, their ruddy skins scarred. They’re ripe.
Ten thousand pounds of petals would make one pint of attar, or oil, prize of queens. My love is like a red, red. Aphrodite was born from sea-foam: as she walked along the beach, flowers sprang up under her feet. I have crushed the petals and rubbed them behind my ears, years ago, looking for something I couldn’t yet name.
World War II, England: no citrus. The boats carrying lemons, limes, oranges from afar are bombed. A dearth of vitamin C. And so the English go to work, cultivating the hips, the heps, the haws, the berries, whatever one might call them, pressing them into a dense syrup. The children were saved, or at least, the nation dodged scurvy. The fruit of the rose tree is a kind of apple, same family. The natives here, in this northern archipelago, have used them as medicine for ages. Sore throat, diarrhea, weakness, broken heart, insomnia.
We’ve brought clippers and sturdy gloves.
Across the street, a small child kneels on the grass before a Nativity scene, though Christmas was 6 days ago. The figures are child-size, and illuminated from within. The thick plastic, garishly colored in parts, does a fair job dispersing the light, although you can still see the glowing bulb at the core. He’s barely more than a toddler, the boy.
A teen appears to be watching him, at least from the corner of her eye. She is on the phone and texting at the same time, white wires hang from her ears.
My clippers are dull, I am chopping and gnawing at the briars as much as cutting them. I’m thinking about meat and electricity. The plastic family, plugged into the side of a modest house. I wonder where my cord runs, and imagine it tangled up in the briars. Snip carefully.
The child calls out for his mama, and the teen says, Coming. Just a sec. Mary was younger, I suppose. Looking over at the crèche, I imagine the blue-mantled figure in the months before she bore her pink plastic child. Gabriel, with plastic wings, swooping down to annunciate, whispering advice to the scared virgin about to get knocked-up : Close your eyes and think of England.
Later, we’ll pluck hip from stem, scoop out the hairy seeds inside. After peeling the skin, you’ll mash the meat, and froth it with water and sugar. How to love a rose. Bruising a petal, pricking a thumb. Scent, of course. The natural pectins allow for a foam that can be frozen, then placed on the tongue. The taste is slightly bitter, but lasts hardly at all.