I never had my own amaryllis. Nobody ever gave me one, and I wasn’t likely to buy one for myself. Whenever I buy an indoor plant, all the other plants in the shop pitch in for the funeral luncheon.
But this Christmas someone gave me a bulb. And a kit. There was a little pot and a hard little puck of soil that magically fluffed out to fill the little pot, and then you set the big bulb in the little pot so that it sticks partway out. It looked like soup from the Middle Ages, the kind that’s mostly boar’s head poking out of a little moat of broth. Meat joints are flung to the mongrels and serving wenches overfill their dresses. It was a big-ass bulb, is what I’m saying.
You toss in a dab of water and stand back.
Now, I have sung about an amaryllis. Our madrigal group used to hack through that one. Not much to the lyrics: Adieu, sweet amaryllis, For since to part your will is. I like making rhymes, myself, so I’m familiar with how clunky a lyric can get when you’re trying too hard to make a rhyme work. The composer John Wilbye was looking at his amaryllis, and all he came up with for a rhyme was “Willis,” but he didn’t know anyone named Willis, so he tried out Do tell, sweet amaryllis, you know where Mother’s will is? but that didn’t make sense, so he ended up with “since to part your will is” and then he had to say good-bye to it. Anyway, the song was a hit. Then he went on to write Farewell, my dear bergenia, For soon we won’t be seenya, and Alas sweet marigold, You old.
The big bulb didn’t do anything for a few days and then a little green knob poked up. Well, I’m familiar with the miracle of plant growth. I have seen entire gardens fur up with weeds if you turn your back for a few hours. My Echium “Mr. Happy” shoots out a ten-foot spire of flowers audibly. If you don’t yank a holly at the two-inch-tall stage you’ll have to take a chainsaw to it. Plants are amazing.
But that’s the thing about amaryllises: people like them because they grow in the dead of winter when nothing else botanical is happening. So they really stand out. You can’t look away. My amaryllis thrust itself straight up, a big, turgid, meaty thing it was, and there was something fleshy swelling at the top, and ultimately four fat, lusty flowers exploded out of it and presented to the world like baboons at a sloth convention. I stared in wonder and embarrassment. What in the natural world pollinates such a thing? I visualized a big bumbly bee lumbering in there like a fat old dude manspreading in a sauna in a tiny towel, his entire reproductive apparatus swinging among the stamens.
It’s rude, especially in the winter. There should be pajamas on that thing.
And if it were not cocky enough, lo, a little batch of strappy leaves yearned below it like an entourage.
I know what comes next, because I sang the song. To part its will is. It’s going to fold up and go away. If it takes longer than four hours, I’ll have to call the doctor.