The last few weeks have been intense and hard. My father passed away on August 19, the day after my birthday, and his services were held on my partner Alabaster’s birthday September 1. But my dad came into this world crashing a funeral–his father’s–and so the whole cycle of life seems contained in my dad’s own. Enter the corpse flower, and its day of bloom at the Denver Botanic Gardens on August 31, the morning of the day we were to set out for San Francisco to celebrate my dad’s life, Lee Alcidos Goodin. Here’s his official obit at the SF Chronicle, and my personal obit for him.
I did not wake up the morning of the 31st thinking of the corpse flower, but rather of nightmares I’d had about my dad’s last hours. I’d heard him on the phone–my stepmother had put the phone to him–she said they say hearing is the last to go–for me to say goodbye, and I said, “I love you. Thank you for being my dad,” and his response was horrifyingly inarticulate. I have a morbid fascination with the brain living in a cocoon of disobedient or destroyed senses or motor functionality, and so the image conjured of my father’s rasping groaning response will forever haunt.
Alabaster said, “We’re going to the corpse flower right?” It was 7 AM, and he had to be at work in three hours, and, though I’d mentioned that Stinky was blooming for the next twenty-four hours the night before (having read it in an email notice from the Denver Botanic Gardens), I did not have high hopes of being able to muster the next day. But Alabaster’s willingness to do this for me, before work, before a trip to San Francisco, and a busy sad beautiful terrible weekend, was too generous to say no to.
So, we took our coffees across Cheeseman Park to our (sort of) private entrance) at the west end of the Botanic Gardens, where members like us can get in with our magnetic key. There we found a gaggle of disgruntled fellow key holders. Apparently, they’d forgotten to unlock the magnetic gate. So we stood there with one other adamant member who decided sooner or later, they would come and open our secret garden door, while the others peeled away to make the long trek around to the front entrance at York Street.
A few minutes later, someone came through and opened it and we all exclaimed, “Yours works!” and he said, “That’s cuz I’m an employee.”
But we said, “We have keys, and we’re supposed to be let in at 8 AM.”
Well this employee hemmed and hawed and tried to say that he’d come back for us, but the three of us put our collective foot in the door and would not let him leave us hanging. He relented, and we walked towards the other end of the gardens, where the jungle building houses the corpse flower named Stinky.
I wrote about the corpse flower (Amorphophallus titanum) in Goethe & the Corpse Flower: Dying Into Being, but had never sniffed her in person.
We walked towards the jungle building and I smelled garbage, “Could that be her already?” We began to get nervous at our chances of meeting her in person, because the lines snaked, Disneyland style. However, the bad smell lured us forward. The woman in front of us said that it smelled a little like dirty diapers, “And it’s not her!” she said about the baby she was holding. And it did smell a little like dirty diapers, and a little more like dirty dumpsters.
By the time we wound our way to the actual flower, which, Alabaster assured me is just as big and bloody red as in the many photos he’d seen, the scent was actually less strong, perhaps because of all the other scented flowers around, not to mention the human bodies as well.
I got my photo op, and we made it home in plenty of time for Alabaster to get to work, and for me to be appreciative that I got a chance to smell one of only a few corpse flowers in the U.S. on the occasion of its blooming, which, so rare every 2-3 years after an initial bloom), and so short (only 24-48 hours), seems acutely metaphorical of our own short time on earth. As I’ve been working my way through Joyce’s Ulysses again, I’ll leave you with the thought from Bloom that our allotted human life forms “a parenthesis of infinitesimal brevity,” and so we must seize all opportunities.