THE garden, at first, was a shortcut, a quicker way to reach the cashier, the labs, the blood bank squirreled behind the bleakest of alleys.
Then I noticed that few took this path: the nurses with their color-coded trays of pills and paraphernalia, the residents in billowing white like avian escapees, the caregivers clutching little grey slips, anxious lest the prescriptions flutter away like the flimsiest of hopes.
For the minute or so it took to saunter through the garden, I avoided the hushed bright corridors where a consultant whispered to stone-faced relatives about a metal heart valve, the shroud on the gurney creaking on its way down to the morgue.
Moving through the hospital maze, I know the corridors by smell more than sight, the odors of disinfection layering over the stream of maladies, an olfactory map to the mysteries of the human body and its infinite ways of disintegration.
This theatricality cultured in hospitals is muted in the garden where life is not tracked by medical doses or accompanied by the clicks and electronic murmurs of life-extending machines. It is reassuring to find the sap at its riotous, its most fecund, flowers hypnotizing butterflies, bees ravishing pollen-sticky stamens, this old soul drunk on sunshine, breeze, the fuzz of grass as unruly as morning-after love.
Certainly the nuns had more pious intentions in creating this oasis. As with plants, we grow more assuredly towards the light when we are firm in our moorings.
To see the connections not just of this organ to that, to dwell on the consequences of desires on mortality, to see in suffering and tribulation the profoundest confirmation of the indestructible and the eternal—our science has yet to catch up with the ancients.
When the Spanish colonizers reached our shores in the 16th century, nutmeg was among the “first drugs” discovered, wrote the priest-scholar Ignacio Francisco Alcina.
Nutmeg trees bled sap like blood; hence, their repute as “blood trees” warding off illness. Much prized was a variety called “doghan” because the natives believed its sap was blood.
Alcina enumerated at least 11 local words rooted in “dugo (blood),” including “dugoon” (the monthly cycle of women), “nakadugo” (blood flowing through the male or female genital), “dinugo” (bleed to death), and “hinugo” (penalty for extracting another’s blood).
The tiny red blossoms in the garden I escape to have no scent. Remembering the tubes coding my mother’s blood (red clamp for the stream leaving her body and blue for the returning flow, she explains), I repeat my own mantra: red blood for oxygenated; purple for deoxygenated. Red now is the new favorite.
August 24, 2019
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