Underneath this motley canopy of gray and blue, lush with the early tenderness of leaves, the pink azaleas open light-shy eyes like pupils of albinos, sloughing off delicate pods that smoulder, when the wind blows, live coals among the gray of furnace ashes. Here are magenta carpets fit for leprechauns, when crescent moons glimmer upon the ocher ponds, and the slow fireflies light their phantom lanterns, weaving to and fro about the ivory-orange marble of the tomb.
Each April day brings opalescent waves of birds that dart like living brands about the aisles to light the flower lamps; nonpareils, orioles, and hummingbirds, a mist of speed upon their wings, while the blue heron stands one-legged by the ponds, watching the garden till it seethes and flames with colors from the cloaks of mandarins.
High in the ancient forest the magnolias burn the perfect alban lucence of their lamps; white are their ivory cups like priestly linen, and fragrant with the tang of foreign citrons. An esoteric, mirrored swan slides by like Cleopatra’s barge, while drums of color beaten by a maniac blend with old tints of Leonardo’s dreams, colors that God might see if his own lightning blasted out his eyes.
This march of color chants a strange barbaric fitness of dithyrambic chords, and moves processional across the days like some encarnadined durbar, where a huge Ethiopian eunuch in red moon-shaped slippers and an orange turban walks with a glittering scimetar, leading a brace of sleepy leopards drugged and golden eyed; the caparisoned elephants swing down a latticed street; silk shawls hang from balconies, brushing the domed gilt of howdahs; and ruby-roped, the maharajahs sway behind the mahout with his peavey-goad.
The stark denial of the blue-ribbed sky looks down upon this garden, where the wantonness of earth is flaunted in the spring against the face of heaven’s void sterility. Here stolid faces look ashamed. When the sun leans on boreal wings, there is a month that lovers walk here justified, while flower throats cry in vast choirs, “Glory to life!” and the uplifted trumpets of vine tubas shout with noise of color set to notes of bloom.
This is a garden where the
Son of Heaven
Well might walk,
With all his dragon-broidered mandarins,
To the plucked sound of tenor instruments,
With peacocks, kites, and little red balloons,
Mirrored with incense and rice-paper lights,
And old bronze lanterns on the full moon nights,
Upon the lacquered, porcelain-pink lagoons.
If cardinals in sun-blood
robes were here
To kiss the ring of gorgeous Borgia popes;
Or bold de Gama’s loot from Malabar:
Topaz and ruby, chrysolite and beryl,
The golden idol with a thousand hands,
And ropes of pearl;
They would seem lesser than these flowers are,
Whose masculine magnificence makes riches pale.