In early April, a single striking stalk of prairie penstemon (Penstemon cobaea) rose above its companions: a few early blooms from Engelmann’s daisy, a bit of Texas flax, an errant bluebonnet. It had erupted in one of poet Kevin Cole’s hard places: the washed-out soil of a Texas roadside. Both its height — nearly two feet — and its exceptionally large flowers brought his poem “Waiting for Beardtongue” to mind; it wonderfully captures the experience of waiting for any flower — the beardtongue, and more.
Were you here with me under the tangle
of contrails, we’d wait for the beardtongue,
and I’d show you where the none-too-demure
stands will erupt in the hard places:
the sorry, washed out soil of the hillside,
road cuts, and abandoned mounds of ballast.
Although I know this stamp of land as well
as a scribe knows his vellum, I’m not
inured to the surprise and ecstasy
of waiting for beardtongue: waiting is how
we measure time here. Not by Chronos,
Kairos, A theory, B theory, or relativity —
But rather by the exquisite waiting:
first for the gray-green leaves to clasp
the limber, nimble stems, then for the stems
to bear the loads of two-lipped, chaliced lavender
flowers turning the field into a mural
of serene, puple-robed Etruscans.
In the all-too-brief two weeks when
the beardtongue blooms, I become
the great shirker of obligation,
look askance at my pressing labors,
leave be fields that should be tended
and barns that should be mended.
For this is the season of untethering
oneself from the dogged troubles of tomorrow;
this is the season of surfeit, when the plain
is aproned in the raiment of beardtongue.