The telling nature of Not Flowers by Noreen Ocampo is at once phenomenal and quotidian. I feel like I just gained a friend. Hugging our favorite stuffed animals, we stayed up all night. The room lit only by candlelight and a full moon shining through the windows with the curtains drawn. We told each other our secrets and “laugh-cried” into the early morning.
Not Flowers is a slice of life collection that delivers an honesty whose brutality is cushioned by lapping waves of beauty. “yet some parts of me never stop searing. My/ mother is one of the few that / knows I am always silently swallowing fire/ but today, I am soft as water” Getting a glimpse into the life of the narrator through the vignettes of these poems is a form of reckoning with what might be one’s own deepest and darkest insecurities. “If I close my eyes, I see/ the deep teal I add/ to the shadows of my photos after scrutinizing them/ so they are no longer beautiful.”
How does one reconcile with one’s own sense of worthlessness? Say it plainly, perhaps? How does one exorcize the chaotic energy between them and their past? Call it by its name? How does one hold a ceremony for what must be put to death? Collect flowers, or “not-flowers,” I suppose? How does one resurrect what was never meant to die? Chant it back to life.
This collection of “not-flowers” boasts the moment before the flower’s bursting bloom. It tracks the progression of energetic growth from the roots underground to the porous point from which the flower is beckoned. What coaxes the birth of this blossom is the love that ushers it into being. The love of friends, the love expressed from the narrator, the hope that lives somewhere in the midst of it all. “the way everything grew into everything.”
Even as loved ones are “recoiling from a dragonfly/ bumblebee/ fairy & darting back inside” one must admit that they don’t “yet understand/ how silent/ sudden/ goodbyes often are”. Even as someone somewhere wonders “Where are they all headed, anyway?” Even as one must admit “When have we chosen anything aside from noodles/ & each other?” And even as we are called to “celebrate that our friend was going home to/ someone with steady hands & conviction”. Still, everything grows into everything. And we are left “hungry/with good intent”, hopefully, “translating people’s faces with kindness” and can each profess “I believe how happy I am.” Despite the soft, seething acidity that may or may not exist, “My friends never have to wonder whether I’ll text back/ this time”.
This collection of life-flowers reminds us that life may be ordinary, but this ordinary may just be lovely enough to convince us that we want to be in it. It whispers that the transcendence of mundanity may lie in belonging and to be at the point of standing in what is possible, filled with potential-kinetic energy of the “laugh-cry” of life, is an okay place to rest before we burst forth into the light.
Melissa Ferrer & (she/they) is a multidisciplinary artist, poet, educator, organizer, and friend living in Kansas City, MO. She lives chanting hallelujah into the liminal spaces of life. She is a Poetry MFA Candidate at Randolph College. Her work can be found in Fahmidan Journal, ZinDaily, and elsewhere. She was longlisted for the 2021 Palette Poetry Emerging Poet Prize. She is a lover of Asian dramas, rapture, and you.