The Ubiquitous Day Lily of July

Those of you who read this blog on a regular basis know that one of my favorite recently-discovered (for me) poets is David Budbill. He reminds me a little bit of Mary Oliver, though if anything he is even more rooted in the details of everyday life than she, which is saying something.

At age 57, perhaps I have a finer appreciation for that which has been around awhile and has acquired some resiliency and toughness learned through life experience. Like the ubiquitous day lily, I am no longer smooth or fresh or perky. I’ve got gray hair and wrinkles, and I just noticed recently the brown age spots on the backs of my hands (my grandmother used to call them “liver spots.” I like that.).

My favorite line of this poem: “it’s coarse and ordinary and it’s beautiful because it’s ordinary.” I love this idea that the common and the mundane can be both coarse and beautiful. I think of the wind-blown trees I’ve seen for years out on Cape Hatteras. Sometimes they are literally growing horizontally, shaped by a ceaseless force; bent, yet unbroken. Resilient in their weathered beauty.

The Ubiquitous Day Lily of July, by David Budbill

There is an orange day lily that blooms in July and is
everywhere around these parts right now. Common.
Ordinary. It grows in everybody’s dooryard—abandoned
or lived in—along the side of the road, in front of stone walls,
at gas stations and garages, at the entrance to driveways,
anywhere it takes a mind to sprout. You always see them
in clusters, bunches, never by themselves. They propagate
by rhizomes, which is why they are so resilient, and why
you see them in bunches.

There is an orange day lily that blooms in July and is
ubiquitous right now. The roadside mowers mow a lot
of them, but they don’t get them all.

These are not the rare and delicate lemon yellow day lilies
or the other kinds people have around their places. This one
is coarse and ordinary, almost harsh in its weathered beauty,
like an older woman with a tough, worldly-wise and wrinkled
face. There is nothing nubile, smooth or perky about this flower.
It’s not fresh. It’s been around awhile and everybody knows it.

As I said, it’s coarse and ordinary and it’s beautiful because
it’s ordinary. A plant gone wild and therefore become
rugged, indestructible, indomitable, in short: tough, resilient,
like anyone or thing has to be in order to survive.

A final thought: in much of poetry and literature, the mower (i.e., a figure carrying a scythe) represents Death. Think “The Grim Reaper.” Among the many delights of this poem is Budbill’s very modern reimagining of this image: those roadside mowers bringing death to some, but not all, of the ubiquitous day lilies. These motorized grim reapers will never get them all, for this is a plant gone wild, and therefore rugged. Resilient in their ordinary beauty.

1 thought on “The Ubiquitous Day Lily of July

  1. Susan Kuzia

    As I approach the age of 57 in a couple of months, I definiely identify with the orange lily. As I age, and notice the ordinary signs of getting older: gray hairs, wrinkles (which I like to call “smile lines”) and those “liver spots” on my hands, I redefine my idea of beauty. These ordinary changes that come with age can be seen as beautiful because they represent survival to live another day. One can survive the mowers, but one also must survive the smaller weed whackers and leaf blowers that life presents in its hardships and trials. And to survive long enough to experience the ordinary changes to our aging selves makes us far from ordinary, I think. It makes us more interesting with stories to tell. ❤️

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