Lis Anna-Langston

My mother grew azaleas outside the back door of our cabin in Mississippi. Creamy butterscotch rays slanted across her face when she knelt on the brick patio next to her azaleas in the fading afternoon light.

Pruning and doting on those pink petals was a sideline for her, touching the softness, clearing weeds. Lying next to those bushes cast off the rest of the world. Those were the days after the smack. The days when a joint would suffice. The days before the blow, the paranoia, the FBI. Those were the times when sleeping all day in the hammock next to the swiftly tilting colors of her azaleas was enough. I watched her there, moved by a gentle wind and ran wild with my pony around the lake. I named him Pancho Villa.

I was six years old.

Flowers brought to her eyes a sense of peace, to her hands a sense of purpose. Those azaleas that knew nothing of dirty syringes or leftover roaches in the ashtray.

Or maybe they did.

Maybe those bright pink flowers were the only thing on earth to see her as she was. Who she really was. A flower planted in the middle of dusty Mississippi, struggling for water, breath. Maybe those azaleas felt the pulse of her heart when she touched them and trusted her to know which leaves should go when no one else trusted her to drive into the city because all of her old friends were poison ivy.

There were other flowers living out there with us by the lake. Mimosa, cattails, wildflowers, and fields of buttercups I collected in old paint cans to set beside my bed, next to jars of flickering fireflies. But her favorites were always those azaleas, as if she truly had a bond with those flowers, truly loved them more than the dark rooms from whence she’d come, her veins like a highway of weeds taking over.