By Virginia Jasmin Pasalo
THE rain continues to pound on the cosmos flowers which we hoped to gather as soon as the sun rises. My sister Emma had purposely scattered cosmos seeds in almost every sidewalk that we passed on our daily walks, and on the adjacent lot where tall reeds used to grow. They have outgrown the reeds.
Cosmos got its name from Spanish priests. They were captivated by its elegance, and the orderly arrangement of its petals that they named the flowers after the Greek word kosmos which “refers to the decoration, order, and harmony of the universe”.
It is possible that the first cosmos seeds came from Mexico, via the Manila galleon, by some strange accident, as they were not meant for trade. Cosmos species are native to scrubland and meadowland in Mexico. The trade route between Acapulco (Mexico) and Manila (Philippines) which lasted from 1565 to 1815, sailed the Pacific Ocean and traded mainly spices and porcelain in exchange for silver.
Or they may have come from the United States where they are also indigenous, in the same manner that the seeds were introduced in the high eastern plains of South Africa, via contaminated horse feed during the Anglo-Boer War.
Cosmos flowers are colorful and attract bees, butterflies and other pollinators that increase the likelihood of a variety of colors over time. They adorn abandoned spaces, and gardens, and salad bowls with a mixture of greens, hibiscus, ternate and other flowers.
The burst of flowers not only attract butterflies, they attract ruthless predators, too. Yesterday, I heard snipping sounds on my window so I checked what it was and saw cosmos branches carelessly yanked and dismembered from the main stems. Someone ran away but I did not get to see his face. I have long accepted the risk of planting in open spaces, and I am beginning to understand the complexity of motivations that drive people to claim an existence for pleasure, for malice, for the thrill of taking, or just to fulfill a primal desire.
In photos, cosmos flowers provide a beautiful backdrop to street shots, or in framing rivers and mountains, as in the photo of Mount Mayon, which inspired a poem I wrote:
in the calm of the wild
in the aftermath
of a fiery wrath
rising from the ashes
kissing your foot,
a sea of cosmos
In high school, I read a book, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, whose theme juxtaposes aspirations and the symbol of the tree. It is a story of women surmounting hardship and adversity, even when born infirm, persevering like the tree. I remember it not so much for the story, but for this unforgettable imagery:
“If there was only one tree like that in the world, you would think it was beautiful,” said Katie. “But because there are so many, you just can’t see how beautiful it really is. Look at those children.” She pointed to a swarm of dirty children playing in the gutter.
With the cosmos, it is the opposite. Like the tree in this novel, cosmos are sturdy and compete with the tallest reeds. They are beautiful not because the flowers stand alone, but because they are in the multitude. Like suddenly, all the universes seen by the James Webb Space Telescope have arranged themselves before your eyes, and you are not pointing on a swarm of dirty rocks, but looking at the cosmos, a harmonious order of the universe.
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